I’m currently over half way through my unexpected year abroad in China. I’m a History undergraduate at Southampton, how did this happen? I applied to uni knowing I wanted to do an Erasmus exchange semester in either Mexico or Spain, to improve my Spanish and study certain areas of history not available to me at Southampton. This happened, and I got myself to Seville. I had an amazing time eating tapas, drinking Spanish wine and enjoying the Erasmus (party) experience. What I didn’t foresee as a fresher way back in 2011, was then spending a year abroad in Xiamen, China.
Towards the end of my first semester in first year, as the keen young fresher I was, I went along to a ‘curriculum innovation fair’ on campus. I did this because I was interested in seeing if there was a class I could join to keep up my Spanish, and because I’d always had the vague notion of wanting to learn French. I wandered about the fair, getting slightly distracted by piracy modules, and found my way to the language learning section. It turned out only learning a new language is offered, so I picked up the French leaflet, and on a whim – and because there was an adorable Chinese man – I picked up the leaflet for Chinese too. When it was time for me to choose my second semester modules, I did what I always do when I can’t decide, and called my mother. She instantly said, in a nicer way than this: “don’t be an idiot, learn Chinese, just go to France some other time if you want to learn French.”
Despite a shaky start, I ended up loving that first semester of Chinese, and my interest in China, Chinese culture and the langue was piqued. The first semester of second year I was due to head of to Spain, but I continued Chinese during the second semester when I was back. It was not easy, but I enjoyed the challenge, and going home to London being able to read a few signs around Chinatown was really cool.
Easter came, and I got an email from the Confucius Institute from Southampton saying there was a delegation of students to go to Xiamen on an all expenses-paid trip, and that I should I apply. I damn right did. For more tales on my first (and free) trip to China, please click here. Needless today, I went, I saw, I fell in love. China is an awesome, crazy, unbelievable place, and that trip spurred on my desire to somehow continue my language studies in the country.
I’d had the idea of spending the summer there doing a summer course, and then travel. This requires money though. My Chinese teacher mentioned something about scholarships, so I went to the Confucius Institute and asked: hey, who can give me money? I was told a summer programme couldn’t be offered, but I could apply for a year-long scholarship and suspend my course for a year. I was just before the deadline, I might even have been late, but the guy at the Chinese embassy said it was ok. So apply I did, and by early May I got my scholarship award. A few weeks later I got my University admission notice. Then it sunk in: I was going to China for a year!
This all sounds fun and dandy, but the application process is not easy or clear, so please feel free contact me for any advice or if you have any questions.
Having said that, learning Chinese and coming to China is definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I have had, and am continuing to have the most unbelievably great time. I’ve learnt so much and done so much. I have a pretty decent level in one of the most important languages in the world. I have travelled to so many amazing places and met absolutely incredible people. I’ve got to know an entirely different culture and learnt how to adapt and assimilate. It has helped my job prospects and widened my path for the future.
For information about these scholarships, go to the Southampton Uni Confucius Institute in room 4125 in building 58. The website for my scholarship (Chinese Embassy Ministry of Education scholarship – they’re all under the Chinese Government scholarship umbrella though) is this one, though there are a multitude of others, including Chinese Mission the the EU, Confucius Institute scholarships. I warn you, as I said before, it’s is very hard to understand exactly what you need to do. It’s also an idea to go to the International Office in Student Services and get some help, the staff there were very helpful to me.