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Johan VAN DE VEN FS2012-13, Oxford University | to China

Obviously the central component of my time in China was the course that I attended at Peking University, taking classes in translation, contemporary literature, newspaper Chinese, oral Chinese and classical Chinese, but although there has been a marked improvement in my “academic” Chinese, the most memorable and valuable experiences from this year come from outside the classroom.


Over the course of the year I travelled regularly, going as far north as Harbin, wear the mercury dropped to -22℃, and as far south as Hong Kong. The particular highlights of my time travelling were a two-and-a-half-week long trip through eastern and southeastern China, taking in cities such as Nanjing, Hangzhou and Xiamen, but also long, arduous and ultimately spectacular climbs of Huangshan, Sanqingshan and Wuyishan. This trip encapsulated very well the divide between developed and undeveloped in modern China: I walked past the construction site of the Ritz-Carlton in Nanjing, while in Yushan, a small city in Jiangxi, we struggled to even find a cash machine.


However, the most unique and rewarding part of my travels was a homestay in a small village in Shandong, organised by a Chinese friend of mine from Peking University. He arranged for four westerners and Chinese students from around Beijing to visit his village for the better part of a week. It was a fantastic opportunity to see life off the beaten track (although not so far off the beaten track, as President Carter had been to the county capital, Binzhou). During out time in Shandong, we learnt how to open a watermelon without a knife, saw the workings of a local factory and were given an introduction to traditional Chinese machine. And of course, we ate fantastically well.


Aside from travelling, I also spent the second semester serving as a volunteer with A Bridge for Children, an organisation that supports underprivileged children throughout China, from orphanages in the south to weekend activity programs in Beijing. I served as a basketball coach, travelling to the outer reaches of Changping district every Saturday, teaching girls aged 12-14 how to do a lay-up, and also seeking to instill the “3 C’s” – commitment, courage and care. The program ended with a tournament – my team made it to the final but lost in acrimonious circumstances, and even candy could not soothe the girls. But this was a tremendously rewarding experience, not least because I hope that I can count my fellow coaches as lifelong friends.


So in conclusion, I would like to thank you for making me a 2011-2012 Fung Scholar, allowing me to have these amazing experiences.