Olivia KNUTSON FS2014-15, The University of Oxford | to China
Thanks to the generosity of the Fung Scholarship Fund, this year I was able to spend two semesters studying at Peking University.
My time in Beijing exposed me to a new way of living that contrasted sharply with the suburban existence I was accustomed to from my childhood in South London. The fast pace and intensely sensorial experience of walking down the street in China was a revelation to my 19-year-old self. It was as though I had been dropped onto another planet; the air was filled with unimaginable smells, sounds and an unusual sense of commotion. I was both exhilarated and terrified. Even though I had travelled prior to visiting China, Beijing felt entirely different to anywhere else. Starting a new life there required that I learn how to survive on my Chinese speaking abilities and common sense. It moreover opened my eyes to the importance of human relationships as a support network, to the beauty and complexity of modern Chinese culture and the universality of kindness and charity. I can honestly say that this year has been life changing.
I would say that studying at Beida and the opportunities that this afforded revealed to me the value of human relationships above all else. It was not simply that I formed lasting bonds of friendship with the other members of my class, who became my go-to support network and family while in Beijing. It was moreover the experience of meeting Chinese students that enriched my time studying at Beida. I made lifelong friends with some highly intelligent and interesting individuals, who helped introduce me to Beijing and wider Chinese society. I am grateful for their patience and understanding, and I will treasure the time we spent together, even the memories that do not seem so remarkable or ‘life-changing’ at first: the after-class meals at the canteen, where we talked about Chinese poetry; going to the cinema on campus, being taught where to buy mosquito repellent… But really our mutual interest in each other and the willingness to dedicate time to bridging our cultural differences was edifying. It also, incidentally, taught me the importance of food as source of eternal conversation.
The most outstanding memory I have of the year is a wedding, which I was invited to attend in Henan province during Golden Week. We stayed with local relatives of a friend. Before arriving in Henan, I had never been to the countryside in China, which turned out to be a world away from urban Beijing. I am honoured to have been welcomed by this family and to glimpse such a special event in their lives. Again, I feel that this year has given me an appreciation for the potential of curiosity and kindness.
I am extremely grateful for the support that the Fung scholarship gave me to study in Beijing this year. It was the most educational year of my life and the lessons I learnt while studying at Beida are still affecting me today. I feel a stronger connection to the Chinese students at Oxford in particular, whom I can share my experiences with; living in China has given me new friends and helped me to understand old ones better. I have a deep affection for the people I met in China and the places I visited. I look forward to returning in the near future to continue making memories there.