Generation UK-China Scholarship: Yantai University

Connor Gower decided to spend the year after his graduation studying Chinese Language at Yantai University. 

Why did you decide to apply to the Generation UK – China Scholarship programme?

I was coming to the end of my 3 years of studying Economics at University and still hadn’t been successful in finding a job that suited me. Alongside my Economics degree, I studied a some extra-curricular Chinese at my university’s language centre, and decided that it would be a waste to simply abandon my studies there. I had a look online and saw that the Generation UK China Scholarship Programme was offering students the opportunity to go to China for a term to study intensive Mandarin. I knew that it was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss! Within a week I had applied and, not long after, was fortunate enough to be offered a place on what has proved to be an amazing programme.

What did you think about your scholarship placement and the Chinese learning experience?

My scholarship placement proved to be an incredible time, one that I can’t thank the British Council enough for. When I first arrived at Yantai University, I was immediately given a placement test to determine the appropriate language level. The assessors placed me between levels 3 and 4 (out of 8) and made me choose which level of these I wanted to pursue. Relishing the challenge, I opted to study in the level 4 class, which turned out to be the right choice. While the classes were admittedly difficult at first, my Chinese level progressed amazingly in only 5 short months. All classes were conducted in Chinese and being the only native English speaker in my class meant that I was forced to constantly use Mandarin. The majority of students in my class were Korean, as Yantai is very near to South Korea, and there were also some Russian and Japanese students in my class. I studied a wide variety of classes during my term in Yantai University: Comprehensive, Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, HSK5 Preparation, Business Chinese and Chinese Geography.

The Chinese learning experience was not entirely as I had expected; many lessons felt similar to Western lessons, although some teachers were admittedly overly focused on rote learning, as opposed to real understanding. Thankfully however, these were in the minority. What was perhaps more frustrating was adjusting my body clock to the demands of the Chinese University system. I rarely had afternoon classes; instead I would have 4 hours of classes back-to-back starting at 8 in the morning, meaning I would normally finish by midday. The Chinese really do adhere to an early-to-bed, early-to-rise system, and this was something that it took me some time to get used to. Being free in the afternoons (except on those far too common days where you had too much homework) was a great excuse to go and explore Yantai, which is a surprisingly beautiful coastal city.

I made a number of friends throughout my time on the programme, not limited to my classmates and the other three Generation UK Scholars studying there, but including many of the other students living in international dorms. Although the aim of the programme was primarily to improve my Chinese and deepen my understanding of the country and its culture, being surrounded by so many Korean students here in Yantai has meant that I have also started to learn a bit of the Korean language and have started to understand some aspects of Korean culture, something I could not have expected prior to my arrival!

What have you been up to since finishing the programme?

Since finishing the programme in January, I actually made the decision to stay at Yantai University to continue my Chinese studies, this time in level 5. This term has been partly self-funded and partly funded by Yantai University itself through a scholarship I received for my good grades last term. In May, I took my HSK5 and am hoping to have gained a good grade, as I put in a lot of hard work!* This term, in addition to the standard Chinese language classes, I am also taking classes in Chinese Culture and Calligraphy, though I must admit that my calligraphy skills are somewhat lacking…

*In August, Connor passed his HSK5 exam with a very high score – congratulations!

WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR STUDENTS FROM THE UK TO STUDY, WORK AND LIVE IN CHINA?

Despite the many recent headlines warning of an imminent sharp slowdown in China’s economy, China remains without doubt the economy of the future, and will shortly overtake the US to become the world’s number one economy. The extreme pace of development and rapid catching-up with the West is evident throughout China, especially so in the smaller cities, such as Yantai, where I am still studying. While there are admittedly clear signs of the economy overheating, the people here remain optimistic about the future and I believe that it is inevitable that China will become the world’s most powerful country sooner or later. Given this, it is increasingly important that students from the UK go to the country and experience it for themselves, to see what the country is really like, and to dispel the countless myths that we in the West have about China.

DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY CULTURE SHOCK?

Before heading to China, I was worried that I might experience culture shock, but thankfully, this did not materialise to any significant degree. While many things in China do not work the same way that they do in the West, which can often be a source of frustration for Westerners here, I took these challenges in my stride and treated them as part of my cultural immersion in the country. Maintaining a positive attitude is key in China if you are to avoid being shocked by the vast differences in a country so different from the West.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO STUDENTS CONSIDERING APPLYING FOR THE PROGRAMME?

If you are even slightly considering applying for the programme, then just do it! You’ve got nothing to lose through applying and everything to gain if you are accepted! The Programme covers a wide range of locations throughout China and you are not constrained to just study Chinese language.

China is a fascinating, exciting, mysterious place, and the only way for you to really further your understanding of this emerging superpower is by heading there yourself and experiencing the country first hand.

AND FINALLY, WE ALWAYS GET ASKED – WHAT IS REAL CHINESE FOOD LIKE?

Much, much better than the standard Chinese food you can find in the UK. Real Chinese food is varied, delicious and vastly different to what you might imagine. While it is often too oily, it is undeniably rich in flavour and there exists a huge variety to suit every palette, ranging from the spiciest Sichuan hot pot and the admittedly bizarre duck blood tofu, to more Western-friendly dishes such as scrambled egg with tomatoes, and everything in between. The Chinese revere their food in a way that most Westerners can’t imagine and are rightly proud of their cuisine. If you are ever lucky enough to venture to China, don’t be scared to sample the huge range of delicious (and cheap!) food the country has to offer. Often the places that look the least appealing are the ones that produce the best, most authentic dishes!