Name: Ben Clements
University: The University of Manchester
Programme: Tianjin International Chinese College, Tianjin Programme, September 2016
How did you hear about the Generation UK-China programme?
I heard about the programme through Facebook where I could see that many of my friends had either liked or shared posts by Generation UK. The opportunities Generation UK offers to either study or work abroad in captivating and unique countries such as China looked amazing. I also later found out that previous Chinese-language students at my university had applied for the scholarship to further their language studies and expand upon their previous residence abroad experiences in China.
Why did you decide to apply for the Generation UK scholarship programme?
Unlike a number of students who participate in Generation UK internship/scholarship programmes, I had previously studied Mandarin at degree level (BA Hons. Chinese and Japanese). It was during my year abroad at Tsinghua University in Beijing that I became truly fascinated with studying Mandarin and China more generally; a country that not only is going to be driver of much of the changes henceforth geo-politically, but also is an ancient civilisation that has contributed hugely to the way the world thinks about itself, to our philosophy, our literature and to our understanding of science.
Whilst my exchange in Beijing was a highly rewarding experience which deeply informed me of contemporary China and significantly improved my language skills – I felt as though the one semester I spent studying there was insufficient for me to push on and pursue a career in which I could use my language capabilities, which I why the opportunity to undertake a Generation-UK scholarship programme was so appealing and the reason I ultimately applied.
What did you think about your scholarship placement and what sort of tasks were you doing on a day-to-day basis?
The scholarship placement took the form of a well-rounded and integrated Mandarin-language programme. On a day-to-day basis we would attend comprehension, listening, writing and speaking classes to ensure we all received an effective and comprehensive immersion into Chinese-language learning; scholars on the programme were assigned to classes based on their prior knowledge of Mandarin, ranging from complete beginner to intermediate-advanced level scholars.
We also received Chinese cultural classes in the afternoon to ensure that our Mandarin studies were reinforced with an immersion into various aspects of Chinese culture.
Whilst some of the classes could be challenging at first, my Chinese level progressed significantly during the five-month programme.
All classes were conducted in Chinese and being one of the only native English speakers in my class, it forced me to constantly use Mandarin. My classes were very diverse with students predominantly from other countries such as Myanmar, Korea and Thailand, amongst others. I also studied a wide variety of classes during the afternoons at Tianjin International Chinese College in addition to the regular morning classes: Chinese Movie Classes, HSK 5 Preparatory Classes, Business Chinese and HSK Listening Classes.
On the whole, the classes at Tianjin International Chinese College itself were as challenging as individual students desired the classes to be. Whereas I had previous knowledge of Mandarin and my proficiency was easier to assign to given classes initially, other British Council scholars were able to progress from beginner’s level to intermediate level classes in a very short space of time. This set-up at school certainly benefitted harder-working students and allowed those who really wanted to push themselves a chance to reach their learning potential during the five months.
What was the most enjoyable/exciting part of your experience in China?
For me the most enjoyable part of my experience in Tianjin involved meeting such a diverse range of people from different backgrounds who had studied different degree subjects, and being able to collectively explore the highly unique country of China.
Being able to travel around China confidently speaking in Mandarin, having previously relied on more competent Mandarin speakers last time I was here, was highly rewarding.
I was able to go to rural areas, see extraordinary sights and climb mountains while speaking exclusively in Chinese to other local tourists. I learnt so much more about Chinese culture, made strong friendships with people all over the world and was able to make these five months the most enjoyable and rewarding of my journey studying Mandarin and engaging with China thus far. More generally, any opportunity to push yourself in a completely different situation is something everyone should take up. It can be hard, but also immensely enjoyable. The friends you make, the places you see and the things you learn make it all worth it. To employers, it's very appealing and definitely helps you to stand out of the crowd!
Why do you think it’s important for students from the UK to study, work and live in china?
While China has contributed significantly to the world’s past, it’s set to play an even more significant role in the world’s future. In spite of the headlines in the past couple of years warning of a forthcoming precipitous slowdown in China’s economy, China unquestionably remains the economy of the future.
As one of the fastest-growing provincial cities, Tianjin’s extreme pace of development is striking and this rapid growth can moreover be seen when travelling throughout China. While there are indeed signs of the economy overheating, the people here remain optimistic about China’s future while also recognising how far the country has come in just a few decades. It is for this reason that more British students should engage with China and experience it for themselves.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt?
While I believed in advance of the scholarship that it was going to be a rewarding experience, I was surprised by the degree to which my confidence in handling all matters was enhanced and how rewarding every day I spent in China was. Any time spent living and working overseas is invaluable; learning a radically different language to one’s own, experiencing a different culture and getting used to different transportation systems, amongst other things, are always rewarding, but to be able to experience all of these in a country as unique as china with a diverse group of friends was really something very special.
What have you been up to since you finished the programme? And, do you have any plans to return to China in future or pursue Chinese language study further?
After the programme in Tianjin, I am planning to take advantage of being in this part of the world and visit some international student friends of mine in Hong Kong, still managing to speak Mandarin as much as possible during my time there. I will also travel to Tokyo and meet up not only with Japanese people that I previously knew during university in the UK, but also Japanese friends I have made during the programme in Tianjin.
After applying for several job opportunities in China in order to continue using my mandarin skills, I’ve secured a role at the British embassy in Beijing, where I’ll be starting work in March. I believe my experiences on the scholarship have helped me secure this post and the opportunity to gain further valuable work experience overseas.