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!