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One Student's Journey from Oxford to Peking University

2016-08-15 22:38:17


One Student's Journey from Oxford to Peking University

 

 
 

 

 

Claire Evans is currently a student of Oxford University. She studies Chinese at Wadham College, and has been studying at Peking University for the past year as part of a cooperative program between PKU and Oxford.

 

 

Exactly two years ago last week I visited Beijing for the first time, along with Margherita, a schoolfriend of mine who lives in Shenzhen. We were only in Beijing for four days as part of a three-week, whistlestop tour of China, upon which we embarked immediately after finishing our A-Level exams.

At the time, although I knew that I would shortly begin studying for a bachelor’s degree in Chinese, I could not be sure of my future university, as I was still waiting for my exam results. Margherita, however, was much more confident in my future, and certain that I would get the grades I needed to secure my place at Oxford, and thus, have the opportunity to take part in a one year study program at Peking University (all undergraduates studying Chinese at Oxford spend their second year here in Beijing). As such, she thought that we ought to visit the campus.

I would, at this point, like to describe how we wandered the leafy lanes of the campus, admired the beauty of Weiming lake and the Boya pagoda, and were inspired by our surroundings. Alas, none of these things actually happened. It was a very hot day and the queue to enter the campus was extremely long, so we decided to retreat to Houhai and eat cheesecake instead.

 

 

Of course, Margherita was right about my exam results, and I did end up studying at PKU. To my own amazement, I have now managed to muddle through an entire year in a city whose population is over one thousand times the population of the town where I grew up. Some things have remained the same - I still frequently visit Beijing’s many parks and gardens when I want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and I still eat a lot of cheesecake. 

However, other things have changed since I first visited Beijing, and since I moved here nearly one year ago. I have now studied China, including the Chinese language, for two years. Although there is still plenty more to learn, I feel I have a much better understanding of China, its culture, and its people, than I did before. Through speaking Chinese and making an effort to speak to Chinese people wherever I go, I have begun to understand a perspective very different to that from which I view the world. 

For me, regardless of your nationality or area of study, studying abroad is a unique experience that allows you to appreciate, if not understand, how and why people from a different country (or different countries) see the world in a different way.

One example from my year in China was when Beijing declared its first ever (and, just a couple of weeks later, its second ever) ‘red alert’ for air pollution. This was an event that was widely covered in international media, and I received about a dozen concerned phone calls, emails and messages from friends and family back home, concerned about my health at this time. “Can you go outside?” one family friend asked me. “Do you have enough food in the refrigerator in case you can’t go shopping?” enquired another. I found this all somewhat laughable, as although schools were closed and extra restrictions were placed on driving in the city, it was business as normal for most of us here in Beijing.

I do not deny that the air quality was fairly horrific at this time, but the way it was reported by the media in the UK actually made me quite angry. My family, watching the news back home, had only seen images of the smog at its worst, of people wearing huge masks with high-tech filtering devices, and so on. When I sent a photograph of the view from my window (taken on the same day the red alert was issued), with the sky looking relatively clear, my parents were very surprised. Through this example, I saw how easily the truth could be skewed to demonstrate a point.

Of course, I have also seen the inverse. I have watched the recent political situation in the UK unfolding, from China. I have spoken with a number of my Chinese friends about it, heard their opinions on our EU Referendum, our politicians and our country as a whole. I have also been fascinated by Chinese coverage of, and opinions about, the upcoming US presidential election, among other world events. It has been incredibly interesting to see which news stories from the UK and Europe make it into the Chinese media, and vice versa. This is a perspective that I have been able to appreciate thanks to studying abroad.

When the US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, visited PKU last week, he talked about the time he spent travelling in Europe when he was a student at Stanford University. He encouraged all students to take advantage of all opportunities to travel and study abroad, and talked about the influence his time abroad had on his career. I still have little idea what, and where, my future career might be, but if nothing else, this year I have learned a lot more not only about China, but also many other countries, including my own, and I will always be grateful to Peking University for the time I have spent here.

 

 

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