Name: Emma Holifeld
University: University of Exeter
Programme: Shandong Normal University, Shandong Programme, February 2016
Which city were you based in for your scholarship?
I was based in Jinan city, Shandong. It was an industrial, smoggy, traffic-jammed city, but I’m actually so glad I had the experience of living there. I got a more ‘Chinese’ experience than living in bigger, more Western cities like Beijing or Shanghai.
In Jinan, I really had to use my Chinese as the locals rarely spoke English. Shandong is known as a friendly province and this was really noticeable and a big bonus to living there. Jinan also had great transport links giving me plenty of opportunities to travel around the country.
How did you hear about the Generation UK-China programme and why did you decide to apply?
I first heard about the programme sitting in the British Council offices in Shanghai. We spent an afternoon there whilst I was participating in the Study China Programme.
I really enjoyed Study China and my experience as an English teacher at Tsinghua University’s summer camp in Beijing a few years before that, so I knew that I wanted to return.
Having never really taken to languages before, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed learning Mandarin on the Study China programme.
By the time it came to applying to Generation UK I had a job in London which I was really enjoying.
But I had always regretted not doing a year abroad during university, so I decided to take the plunge and go for it, thinking that learning one of the world’s most difficult languages would be a great addition to my CV.
What did you think about your scholarship placement and what sort of tasks were you doing on a day-to-day basis?
Class was fairly rigorous. After Study China I continued to take weekly Chinese Language classes in the UK. But one of two hours a week in Britain can’t prepare you for four hours a day of intensive language study in China.
Every day the classes focused on reading, writing and comprehension, with speaking practice within each of these, not to mention during my daily life and travels around China.
With my Korean classmates all having minimal English skills, Mandarin was our only shared language. We also had daily dictation practice. Mid-terms and larger exams at the end decided our final grades.
What was the most enjoyable/exciting part of your experience in China?
I was lucky enough to find a group of friends who were just as passionate as me about seeing as much of China as possible.
Having a student visa is a real privilege in China as, unlike the more restrictive tourist visa, you don’t have to have a pre-planned itinerary of every place you’re going to visit when you apply.
I travelled to Guilin, Yangshuo, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, Yunnan and Zhangjiajie, as well as lots of other places within Shandong province.
Sleeper trains across the country were some of my most memorable experiences.
Waking up knowing that you’ve travelled across several provinces is a feeling that can’t be experienced in comparatively tiny England. Waking up with lots of little kids shouting ‘wai guo ren’ (foreigner) at the end of my bunk was certainly different!
My most exciting trip was probably walking Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Me and a friend set off somewhat unprepared for the steep trek (and were followed by a man with a donkey who was convinced we would give up and let his donkey carry us for most of the way). But sipping a drink with a beautiful mountain view along the way made the long walk worth it.
Other fantastic trips included celebrating my birthday at an abandoned part of the Great Wall, riding scooters around the fabulous scenery of Yangshuo and braving the rain at Zhangjiajie’s breathtaking ‘Avatar Mountains’. But of course Cocos milk tea will always be the most enjoyable part of China!