Name: Walker Darke

University: Canterbury Christ Church University

Programme: Jinan, University of Jinan, September 2016

I studied French and Music at University and was lucky enough to complete an Erasmus year abroad in France. I became an ambassador for the scheme in partnership with the British Council, so I understood how beneficial studying abroad can be for countless reasons!

I was just about to graduate from university, and I was looking for a language opportunity as I believe languages can open so many doors. Studying in China sounded like a fantastic experience.

I was placed in a city called Jinan, (don't worry, I hadn't heard of it either) which is two hours by high speed train from Beijing, in Shandong Province. I studied Chinese at Jinan University for five months and it was some of the best few months of my life.

It's difficult to sum up my scholarship in a few words, because it was so different and amazing at the same time. University was wonderful. My class was full of students from places I didn't even know existed (I still need to do some research on Tajikistan), as well as lots of Mexicans.  

I learnt so much Chinese, made so many friends, and did so many things I thought I'd never do. I cannot recommend it enough. 

We had four hours of class every week day, with homework to do. Then we had optional classes of Kung Fu (which was much more relaxing than it sounds, however terrifying the teacher was), Chinese painting, and my personal favourite, paper cutting. 

Then in the evening, I would go and get street food (normally some meat and rice), or eat at the canteen (the biggest bowl of noodles you've ever seen: maximum 80p) Sometimes we'd go out as a group to a nearby restaurant (the fried aubergine is to die for). 

I'd go for an evening stroll through the extensive night market (which was probably over 3km long) and buy some fruit for bargain prices. Then, if the pollution wasn't too bad, I'd join the hundreds of students walking (in the dark) around the athletics track. I'd always go with my friends, and think how ridiculous it was, but it became a part of my routine! The athletics track was a great place to meet locals, who were fascinated by me. Some would come and sit next to me and talk to me in Chinese. Even when I conveyed to them that I didn’t understand, it seemed to only encourage them, or at the very least, they would offer me a cigarette, a warm handshake and a smile.

Walker and friends ©

Walker Darke

The places I went, and the people I met, were unforgettable. I had never been to Asia before, and I will never forget climbing great mountains, visiting Confucian temples, watching football superstars, and seeing great ice sculptures - but it's the bargaining in street markets, the requests for selfies, and my now excellent chopstick skills that I truly value.

I learnt that China is so big, in so many ways, and that after five months, I only got to see a glimpse of what the real china is like. 

I learnt that knowing the phrase 'I've come to China to study Chinese' (wǒ lái zhōngguó xuéxì hànyǔ) can be the answer to any question that you will ever receive in China.

Since finishing the programme I have started a traineeship at the European Union in Brussels. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to work at the EU and having applied for this opportunity many times before, knowing a bit of Chinese made me stand out and I finally got it - and it was probably the last chance to do it! 

I have just started applying for a masters in China, and elsewhere, as studying abroad has made me feel confident studying anywhere. I hope to take my Chinese exam soon.

The Generation UK – China programme has made the difference in me achieving my life goals, for things that aren't even necessarily directly related to China or Chinese. China opens so many doors. I cannot encourage everyone enough to study abroad, be it in Europe, Asia or anywhere else! 

Find out more about the opportunities available with the Generation UK – China programme

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