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Chinese dreams

Students from Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of Higher School of Economics spent last year in universities in China. Anastasia Pyatachkova, Janna Karamysheva, Makar Tsurkan, Dmitri Stiran and Emil Gazizyanov told about what has changed in their lives.

Before going to China students participated in the competition. As a result, Makar Tsurkan and Dmitri Stiran were chosen for the trip to Jilin University, Anastasia Pyatachkova - Beijing Language and Culture University, Janna Karamysheva - East China Normal University, Emil Gazizyanov – Shenyang Normal University.


-      Which of your impressions from the trip is the most striking, the most memorable?


Makar Tsurkan: Winter holidays for students in China are long, more than two months. So after New Year we all met and travelled around the country. We visited Shanghai, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Nanjing and Beijing. I can’t say that we were able to see a lot, but we did see the most important one. Probably this is the most memorable journey.


Anastasia Pyatachkova: Since we were in different cities, holidays were the perfect opportunity to meet and exchange experiences and, of course, explore China from the "inside", find out the situation in the different provinces. They're definitely not so similar to each other.


Dmitri Stiran: It was like this. Makar and I lived together, other guys went to different universities. Emil lived in the closest town in a neighboring province, about three hours away by train. One weekends in autumn, when he came to stay for a couple of days, we thought that we should get together and travel around China. I wondered how much would it cost and made a plan.


Saying that we are just satisfied with this trip is to say nothing. Even now, when I watch our photos and videos, still it feels so wonderful that I can’t even describe these feelings.


We travel all over China - more than 7 thousand kilometers. Even managed to ride on all types of trains, which are: no seats (there you can only stand), with hard seats (such as Russian trains). Once we spend the whole night in a train with hard seats to Beijing.


Personally, mostly I was struck by the Shanghai and Hong Kong character - it seems to me, it is a perfect blend of Chinese and Western specificity of urban style. And skyscrapers - is something inconceivable. It's funny that in one of the business districts, with many reputable car and Europeans in the streets, people eat in ordinary cafes, which sometimes not so clean. Try to imagine the people in business suits that come out from the business center and go to eat lunch in small wooden cafes. This is the contrast of the whole China.


Zhanna Karamysheva: For me, the most vivid impression is traveling. Holidays in China are  very long, so I did not miss any opportunity to change the situation and see as much as possible. In Hong Kong I felt England influence, and English language is really common. It was unusual to see how the Chinese communicate with their children is in English, then in Chinese. On the mainland, this practice is not very common. Living in Shanghai was memorable for visiting the famous world exhibition "EXPO", which attracts millions of Chinese and foreigners. I remember the trip to the highest skyscraper, which was built like "opener" for bottles, Tai Chi classes and active communication with foreigners.


-      Is it true that people from North provinces didn’t understand South provinces’ Chinese?


Emil Gazizyanov: This is absolutely true. The different dialects, different pronunciation. I realized that in the north, where we were, people speak pure Chinese language which is close as possible to the Modern Standard Mandarin. In this sense, it was quite comfortable, because in two months in China I learnt how to understand Chinese people, what they want from me, I was able to express myself. And the first time called Dima asking what to eat, because he has been in China and orientate somehow.

However in the south people speak quite differently. There generally everything is different: architecture, culture and, of course, language. In Guangzhou, dialect is completely different. Dialects are interconnected only by characters. Although in Hong Kong the old characters are still used, but almost all people speak English, so that I didn’t have communication problems.


Zhanna Karamysheva: In Shanghai I heard the familiar dialect of modern Mandarin on campus and I felt safe. But often off campus Chinese communicate in the local Shanghai dialect, of which I know only two or three words. Indeed, the Chinese from the north does not understand Chinese from the south. And this is a great difficulty for them.


-      What did you learn from your trip besides language skills?


Makar Tsurkan: We talked a lot with Chinese people and during  the trip we managed to understand how they talk to each other, how we can with them. Now I know their business communication. Undoubtedly, traditions, dating back to Confucianism, have a strong influence on it.


Anastasia Pyatachkova: In addition, it has become increasingly clear which factors must be taken into account in conjunction with the Chinese side. Why, for example, for Russian businessmen it is difficult sometimes to contact with Chinese? Russian focused mostly on the fact that he should as soon as possible discuss terms of cooperation and start working on an agreement. In China, it is not acceptable. There is a long process of negotiating, the Chinese seek to get to know the partner. Only then they will be doing business.


Dmitri Stiran: Chinese usually invite their partners to the restaurant, but don't discuss business there. And this can be hold several times. Thel will make everything comfortable for you in order for their partners not to reject the contract easily. It is one of the examples. There are lot of nuances in communication with Chinese and Asian people generally.


Emil Gazizyanov: For example, in China orientation to learning is really different. Students learn purposely and methodically. Sometimes it goes to extremes, like you can meet Chinese student with a textbook in his hands at six in the morning on jogging track. I'd rather sleep or relax… Also one moment that I’ve already known is when people smile to you it means nothing. They think about us as an attractive investment. It’s kind of an unpleasant feeling. You should be careful with Chinese in this point.

In general, internship is a chance to see what we were told at university about China and, to be sure, useful experience. And we have understood that China is very different. When you go across Beijing and you step aside slightly from the central streets, there is another picture: slops, garbage, people in dirty clothes, small houses with unsteady doors … So we can tell that we saw everything, we know China not only according to the books.


Anastasia Pyatachkova: Living in the country for a year and visiting it as a tourist is not same. Tourists, as a rule, notice only all unusual. They go sightseeing, they are treated with exotic dishes. Everything appears colourful and attractive around. And after you will spend some time in the country, this initial enthusiasm passes, you begin to understand that behind a beautiful facade a lot of things are hidden.


-        If you go to China by yourself will you survive?


Anastasia Pyatachkova: The survival methods, of course, should be mastered. The first problem is language. If you go, for example, to Guangzhou, then besides a putunkhu, most likely, it is necessary to study also a local dialect. A lot of things depend on where we get. But I think, we will be able to survive.

Emil Gazizyanov: China isn't so terrible. Your perception is matter, whether you are ready to accept China as what it is. If you are not ready, you should leave. It is necessary to understand that you are a guest there, and whether they will accept you or not it is already their business.


-        Did you make any friends in China?


Emil Gazizyanov: Yes, I made couple. But generally mostly it was people of Europe, Latin America. I met a really good friend from South Korea, England, the Czech Republic and Mexico. I didn’t have close communication with Chinese. I think that it is connected with mentality, Asians are different.

Makar Tsurkan: It is very difficult question. You need some time to get closer with Chinese. It is necessary to communicate much and long so that they begin to talk about some intimate subjects. Dima and I had friends from Argentina. We came back to Russia with them by train. We stopped in Irkutsk (several days spent on Baikal), then in Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg. And only then we arrived to Moscow.

Zhanna Karamysheva: There were many acquaintances, but they were Italians, Spaniards, Dutches, Canadians, Americans. After all our mentalities are close. By the end of the year I had a pleasant impression about Koreans, Filipinos. But I didn't have an opportunity to make Chinese friends. For some reason conversation very quickly came to an end, and the remained time we just smiled to each other. Actually it was simpler to communicate with those Chinese who have already done a bit of traveling around the world and know English.

Anastasia Pyatachkova: At the university where I studied, there were a lot of foreign students. I studied together with students from America, Europe, Australia. I have managed to make some friends. But also I succeed in making contacts with Chinese students. I communicated with students from the Beijing university who learns Russian mostly. We helped each other with language development.


-        What do you think about your further education in HSE? What are your plans?

Anastasia Pyatachkova: My plan about further actions is quite accurate. When the person lives in the foreign country, he masters simple language quite well. On the short-term outlook there is a need for me to gather more professional lexicon, to gain more academic knowledge. We only studied in Chinese, that’s why sometimes it is not easy to find the suitable Russian word or the term when translating. So, I need to pay attention on this aspect too. Speak about plans for the future, of course, I hope to find practical application for the knowledge I gained.


Dmitri Stiran: In the next 2-3 years I would like to find some job in the business structures connected with China. But I perfectly understand and I realize that this work, most likely, will be connected with business trips to China, maybe for a long time. Personally I wouldn't refuse to live year or two in the city like Shanghai. After all I has lived a year in rather small five-million Changchun, has gained experience, but it is necessary to grow and move further.

Zhanna Karamysheva: For the remained two years of studying in HSE I’d like to gain as much language knowledge as possible because it is unknown whether there still will be time to learn it. I should only maintain a certain level and learn some new things.


-        You spent a year in China so you had to get an academic leave in HSE. Did you regret about it?


Emil Gazizyanov: Many people say that we "have lost a year". I consider that I haven't lost it. I spent time on Chinese practice, I’ve known the country, communicated a lot and seen the world. It is good also in general. I know now what is happening in China. My interest in this country after a trip has grown many times. I have a lot of controversial issues about China now, which I also wish to understand.

Dmitry Stiran: It seems to me, speaking about it as a loss isn't really correct. I have got much more. The fact that my family and close friends support me in this way is also really great.

Anastasia Pyatachkova: I would add that we get wide life experience. When you communicate along with representatives of different cultures every day it is necessary to find a common language with them. It has influence on your view of the world and ideas of life in general.

Zhanna Karamysheva: I had a break in study. At this time it was possible to comprehend what worked well and what didn't. In a year the level of proficiency in language has grown much. Despite the fact that now we have to pass some extra examinations because of the difference in curricula, a year in China was a big achievement.


-        After a year break it is necessary to join in educational process again. Did your internship somehow helped with the scientific work?

Anastasia Pyatachkova: In scientific work it is necessary to use sources in different languages. On a third year without training it would be extremely difficult to read and quote literature on Chinese, and now it is quite possible. Besides training has helped to define a circle of scientific interests more accurately.


Emil Gazizyanov: For me it is clear now that stands behind statistics figures. China is one of the largest economies of the world, GDP there intensively grows... But behind it there is, as a rule, low-quality production and cheap labor. I saw all of this with my own eyes. This internship has helped to understand how and what to do, how to formulate some conclusions in scientific work and how to specify a research subject.

Makar Tsurkan: Personally internship stimulated me, motivated to go to classes. And now I am engaged much more, than before my trip.

Emil Gazizyanov: It is true, you begins "to eat" and "chew" this "food" and derive pleasure from the process.

Zhanna Karamysheva: When you write works, now you recognize not only that things which you knew from books and articles, but also from the fact that you actually saw, so your paper is getting more qualitatively. We have to write a course paper, subjects are connected with economy and policy of China, so we’ll see.


-        What was the greatest difficulty which you have to overcome in China?

Zhanna Karamysheva: For me it was the answer to a question: "What should I eat today?" Chinese cuisine is exotic, and our organism has got used absolutely to different kind of food. I remember, Dima brought cheese from Moscow, and once I tried to order cottage cheese in the Internet from Russians who live in Shanghai! Usually the "neutral" Chinese food, the Japanese sushi or cafe with European cuisine rescued us.

Emil Gazizyanov: The most difficult thing is, of course, the language. I always studied well, I’ve never had problems with foreign languages. And here I’ve been studying Chinese for two years. But when I arrived to China and I have realized that I understand nothing. I, be already put a lot of efforts, however, much more is still needed. The main thing that I’ve overcame my fear of Chinese. Once on my way home, I took in a taxi and quietly talked to the driver. Just at the same moment someone in the car radio began to say to him that tourists understand nothing, that they are fools. And the taxi driver, understanding that I can hear everything and translate, began to apologize. I had no rage, I have just smiled. It is obvious result of training. Of course, still not all jokes are clear, but some of them are.


Dmitry Stiran: I knew what I was getting into. Any difficulty needs to be overcome with a smile and sense of humour. I have both of it. At this point China, certainly, became a good school of life. It has tempered each of us to some extent.

Makar Tsurkan: The main difficulty for me was overcoming the fear and forcing myself to speak Chinese. All of us had the first day in China like you are sitting in a taxi and … understand nothing. Obviously it is a shock. But we have overcome it. They say that if you see dreams in some foreign language, then you are not bad at it. It happened to me several times.