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The impressions from the trip: Stereotypes about China were ruined

In September 2010 three students from faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of HSE went to Changchun for a year language internship inJilin University, within the scholarship program of Institute of Confucius. Makar Tsurkan, Dmitry Stiran and Alyona Zudkova came back to Moscow for the New Year holiday and told us what they remembered from the first months of internship in China

 

-        Let's talk about Jilin University. Where did you live? Were there any problems?

Makar Tsurkan: Actually it was possible not to leave the university territory at all: there was everything that is necessary for life, and this special students atmosphere. We live in one of the dormitories for foreign students in the room as in some hotel. Of course, there are some household problems, but we have successfully coped with them. For example, at first there was no place where we can keep things, and we had to buy a locker. And when the cold came, heating wasn’t turned on yet, we had to warmed windows with cotton wool. In general, personally I am happy with conditions, it could be worse.

Dmitry Stiran: The main campus I would compare to Moscow State University territory. In our campus of Jilin University, besides student's cafeteria, there is a big football field where I met a lot of Chinese friends. Sport unites, it is the truth. There is a fine park with the lake near the campus. In the evenings it is possible to see the Chinese old men who usually do qigong — respiratory gymnastics. It is even possible to see or rather to hear as someone sings on an edge.

Alyona Zudkova: We had a twelve-floor dormitory, the double room. There are toilet and a shower in the room. My neigbour is from Brunei, she is Muslim, prayed once a day, ate all with hands as it is accepted. She wore jeans, a sweatshirt, but surely a scarf on her head. We have very close relations with her.

 

— What is your usual school day?

Makar Tsurkan: Each day we have two lessons since 8:30 and in the afternoon it’s our free time. All lessons are held in Chinese, and we learn speech, writing, grammar, listening and reading. On the one hand, apparently, study seems to be much simpler, than in HSE. Partly it’s true: we have less requirements and control from university and more free time. But we have gone to China not just to rest, so we should try to get as much knowledge as possible this year.

Alyona Zudkova: In the second semester we are planning to go to an open classroom of business Chinese and preparation for passing an examination for the HSK certificate, analog of the English IELTS. I really liked lessons of oral speech, two times a week each student prepared the message on any subject, sometimes with the presentation. Here I have noticed as far as we were trained in HSE how to talk to an audience. Makar even gave a spesial lecture to the Korean students how to be prepared correctly and make a public speech.

-        And how about a widespread idea that everything is regulated in China and ideological influence of the Communist Party is also can be felt anywhere?

Dmitry Stiran: It seems to me, it is rather a stereotype. By the way, I would estimate this internship as continuous destruction of stereotypes. Our ideas of modern China differ from the current reality. Many people  in Russia consider that China is the country like the Soviet, and it is absolutely wrong, because, unlike us, Chinese do everything enough elaborately and carefully. They don't make strategy of development of the country till 2020, but think even more widely and further. The only moment connected with ideological features which I would note was a case when Makar did the message about Liu Xiao Bo (the Chinese human rights activist, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was in prison for "instigations to blasting the government"). Our teacher — he is rather young, not even 30 years — persistently explained that this person is deservedly in prison. This means that people don't even doubt about his guilt. By the way, Liu Xiao Bo graduated Jilin University.

 

-        How did you spend the leisure-time? Whether it is possible to travel, make friends?

Dmitry Stiran: I actively do sport which wasn't enough for me by two years in HSE, all because of the free time. Together with Makar we go to gym, do Thai boxing, play soccer. Now we are planning a  big travel to the South of China together with our friends from HSE who study at other Chinese universities.

Makar Tsurkan: We’ve already visited to them to Shenyang and Harbin — Emil Gazizyanov and Zhenya Ryazantseva from faculty of World Economy and Internatuonal Affairs of Higher School of Economucs study there. But the most interesting travel will be on winter vacation, we are going to visit Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Nanjing and, of course, Beijing. We try to communicate much with our Chinese friends, and with other foreign students — Argentineans, Koreans and others.

Alyona Zudkova: When I had free time I also danced salsa, oriental dances, studied Spanish with Argentinean friends, cross stitched and nearly every day went to fitness club. Once even I worked as a model in the car showroom.

 

-        Why did you chose Chinese language? Is it just an opportunity for you to learn one more language or you plan to connect your future profession with China?

 

Alyona Zudkova: I have chosen Chinese language four and a half year ago when I have applied documents on faculty of World Economy and International Affairs. At that time I already knew English and German, have decided something to learn absolutely another and have counted Chinese as the most perspective of east languages.

Makar Tsurkan: My story is very similar: at school I learned German and English languages therefore when I applied to HSE I had an opportunity to try some east language. So I have decided not to miss it. And I have chosen Chinese for the same reasons, as, likely, the most of my fellow students — thousand-year culture, special model of economic development and good prospects for future work.

Dmitry Stiran: HSE has bribed me just with the opportunity to learn Chinese, it was one of the main arguments of my admission to this higher education institution as I wanted to unite an economics and a language component. I am attracted by all unique things, and both China and Chinese quite fit this category. It was always interesting to me to touch that so-called "east wisdom", to try to understand what is in the heads of east people.

 

-        How essential after arrival to China wasa language barrier for you? How far did you go for breaking it for last four months?

Alyona Zudkova: I arrived one day earlier than Makar and Dima, then I hardly reached Changchun by train from Beijing (some kind English-speaking Chinese helped me there) and finally got to the university. I was brought to the dormitory and left in the room. There I began to panic. I was very hungry, but didn't know where to go, didn't know how to find my classrooms. It seemed that four years of studying Chinese in Moscow have gone nowhere, I didn't understand a word, except unless, "nihao". But after a week there we easily ordered food in the cafeteria, communicated with teachers, with fellow students from Korea. In December I’be already even understood partially taxi drivers which were difficult because of usually made difficulties because of their pronunciation and different dialects.

Makar Tsurkan: We somehow could explain our thoughts and ask questions, but the biggest problem was that we couldn't understand answers. English, of course, didn't rescue us in any way because very few Chinese know it. But gradually we’ve learnt useful words and grammar, and now we have less problems with understanding.

Dmitry Stiran: Generally, in Changchun we saw a set of examples when people came to learn language "from scratch" and for at least several months they began to express their thoughts. But it, certainly, depends on the person, what goal he or she set, what result one wants to achieve. For me it is some kind of race. I know that I have only a year and I need to get a maximum opportunities from it. Now, probably, I understand that such desire is a consequence of "training" which HSE gave us, that mad speed which was set to me by the HSE last two years.

-        Did you feel "cultural shock"? What did surprised you in China at the beginning mostly?

Makar Tsurkan: Of course I experienced cultural shock. I was surprised with attention Chinese treat foreigners: greet, smile, try to strike up somehow conversation, do compliments and sometimes simply observe as if they are waiting for some representation. Generally, in the first days I felt myself as an exotic animal in a zoo. All in all Chinese seemed friendly and benevolent people, though they have also some "specific" habits. For example, they often spit, smoke everywhere, even in locker rooms and shower. Also they drive cars as if in China there are no traffic regulations. But after all you easily get used to all this trifles.

Dmitry Stiran: For me it is the second visit to China, therefore at first I thought that I have already endured "cultural shock". But I was deeply mistaken. Really, it was very hard to get used to local culture of driving, or rather, to its total absence. For them the pedestrian crossing is nothing more than the designating mark. But it is paradoxical, in all this mess there is minimum of accidents. In four months I saw six or seven road accidents and they were not really serious. The special attitude towards foreigners is expressed also in such thing as if you are the "western" person, then a priori your social status is higher than the "average" Chinese have. And if you also somehow speak Chinese then to you can not avoid inquisitive questions. Questions in the majority are the same: where are you from? what is your university? what is your major? They pay special attention to the last question because education in China is very important, the future of the person depends on it. From such attention, of course, you feel discomfort, but further you get used, you try to draw certain conclusions from such communication and take out information that is useful to you. And still I would note the raciness inherent in all Chinese cities without exception: in the evening salesmen go to the streets with carts from which they sell fried meat, small kebabs, dumplings, sweets and many other things. The Chinese food in general tasty and cheap. I spend 8 yuans for a lunch — about 40 rubles — and in exchange I receive a huge portion of meat or vegetables, which is obligatory with rice.

Alyona Zudkova: The attitude of Chinese to sport is pleasantly surprised. In the fitness center the annual card costs about three thousand rubles, swimming, yoga, gym, belly dances, "Latina" and aerobics are included there. Many elderly people go to the fitness clubs. Once we observed a group of 70-80-year-old women who came to learn to swim. It isn't so in Russia.

 

-        What main goals you have delivered yourself for the 2011th year? What will you be engaged in when training in Changchun ends?

Alyona Zudkova: I study on the fifth grade and didn't take the academic vacation so I have global plans: to graduate from Higher School of Economics. I arrived to Moscow on December 16, now I have to take tests and examinations for the first and second modules, in January and February I plan to write the diploma, in March I’ll go to China again. In June it is necessary to arrive to Moscow for the state examination and diploma defense — yet I don't know how I can do it on time, but I’m sure that I willcan do it. Surely I will search some work for summer. I want something connected with China, but I don't know in what sphere yet.

Dmitry Stiran: First, I want everything to develop successfully and interestingly, now the main thing is to derive pleasure from what I’m doing. Speaking about concrete plans, for example, I will participate in the international examination in HSK Chinese in spring, and, of course, it would be good to pass it. Besides, I want to go to Tibet very much and get on race of Formula One which will take place in Shanghai in April of this year.

Makar Tsurkan: In the first half of year which I will spend in China I want to learn more deeply culture of the country, for example, to sign up for calligraphy courses. It is necessary to visit the Shaolin and Tibet, and still I really want to go to Vladivostok. It is even closer to Changchun than Beijing. Then it will be necessary to remember how to study in HSE. It is, perhaps, the most complex challenge of 2011. If I find forces, then I will begin to learn one more language — Spanish.