By Walker Darke, Sustainable Energy Consultant, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

31 August 2022 - 16:00

Chinese Pagoda next to a bridge over a lake, with woodland and snow capped mountains in the background.
My Chinese isn’t perfect, and it may be frustrating practising the tones or the stroke order of characters. I try and study a little bit every day. Applications like Hello Chinese, Pleco, and Duolingo are good places to start.  ©

Image: Shutterstock

Walker Darke writes about being part of the Generation UK Programme. He recently took part in a panel event hosted with Generation UK alumni and shared his experiences with students on the Mandarin Excellence programme: 

It was a privilege to talk with thousands of schoolchildren across the UK about my experience learning Chinese and living in China. I started studying as part of the British Council’s Generation UK programme, which enabled me to move from Wolverhampton, England to Jinan, China. 

Learning languages broadens your horizons

I was inspired to learn more about the world from watching international events on TV like the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, and the Eurovision Song Contest. Communicating with people from different cultures and points of view helped develop my life skills and critical thinking. I had already studied abroad thanks to the British Council’s study abroad scheme while I was studying French at university. China seemed a much bigger challenge. 

There’s so much more that unites us than divides us

China is so big. Chinese is so complicated. Everyone talks so quickly. There were no Walker’s crisps. These were my first impressions. However, students were welcoming, and everyone wanted to help me learn more. Studying hard in Chinese class helped to make local friends. I didn’t know much about Jinan, but friends invited me to watch football and share common interests. It was amazing to see former Manchester United player Marouane Fellaini play for the local team, Shandong Taishan FC.

Chinese helped my career development

After studying in China, I felt so much more confident to apply for bigger and better opportunities. Thanks to the Chinese language skills on my CV, I completed an internship at the European Union in Brussels. It was an exciting time to be in the offices during ‘Brexit’ negotiations. I stayed there for three years, working as a social media and web content manager, posting on social media pages with over one million followers. Now, I work for the United Nations where I write sustainability policy on behalf of governments all around the world. 

There is always a connection to China

Working in Europe may seem far from China, but China plays an important role in many aspects of society. Chinese investment and business probably made the COVID tests and the phone you use. At the United Nations, it’s extremely helpful to know some of the official languages of the institution. One of them is Chinese (alongside Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish). My local football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, is led by a Chinese company and strongly supports the local community. 

Chinese isn’t always easy

My Chinese isn’t perfect, and it may be frustrating practising the tones or the stroke order of characters. I try and study a little bit every day. Applications like Hello Chinese, Pleco, and Duolingo are good places to start. Sometimes it can be a fun to draw the Chinese characters with friends and find the similarities in the languages. In English, we say Italy, in Chinese, they say Yìdàlì (意大利). I’ve never stopped learning, and even now I’m doing a PhD in China, I still have Chinese language class to avoid misunderstandings! 

Chinese enabled me to do amazing things

Keeping up your Chinese skills is worth it. Some jobs require you to have language skills. The skills I learnt studying languages enable me to live, work and study abroad. I’m extremely grateful to the opportunities that the British Council have given me to empower me to learn languages. I hope you do the same!  

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The panel event hosted with Generation UK alumni as part of the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) showcased the value of Mandarin language ability and inspired MEP students to continue learning Chinese by hearing from successful Generation UK alumni.

The event was hosted by Hannah Silverleaf, Outward Mobility Manager at British Council China.  Walker is a Sustainable Energy Consultant at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. He is also a PhD student in sustainable policy development at Fudan University, China. On the panel, Walker was joined by fellow Generation UK alumna, Ilakkiya Sundarraj.

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