From Rhu to Wuhan: A Scot in China

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Adele Sreeves (22, Argyll & Bute) studied in Wuhan, central China, on a Generation UK China Scholarship. We chatted to Adele about her experience…

What were your reasons for applying to the Generation UK-China Scholarship?

I really wanted a change of scenery after an intense final year at university and I loved the idea of learning a valuable skill at the same time. I studied International Business with Spanish and I felt learning Mandarin and building up a network in China would be really useful in the working world.

Tell us what studying in China was like? Was it what you expected?

Before setting off I had no concrete image in my mind of China. I could vaguely picture some of the main tourist attractions but I had no idea what Wuhan, a city I had never heard of, would be like.

Overall it was far more modern than I expected. The public transport is incredible and there are so many brand new shopping centres. We had class every day for three hours so we built up our language skills really intensively but still had tons of time afterwards to explore the city.

What was your favourite part of the experience?

My favourite part of the experience was the opportunity to learn a language intensively while being completely immersed in that environment. At home I had to balance Spanish with other courses so this was a great opportunity to get totally stuck in.

I also loved meeting people from all corners of the world. In my class there were people from Indonesia, Turkmenistan, Mexico and Syria. Some of my best memories are excursions with new friends, for example, taking a beginner’s Japanese class in a shopping centre or attempting (failing) to sing in Chinese at a karaoke bar.

What was the biggest culture shock?

A big shock was the sheer size of the place. I was in Wuhan in Hubei Province with a population of 11.9 million, more than twice as much as the whole of Scotland! During the holidays I travelled the province and made it to Shanghai, Guilin and Yangshuo. Still, I felt like I’d barely scratched the surface of all the incredible places to discover across China!

Aside from that there are definitely some cultural differences when it comes to communication and manners. Also, I didn’t realise until a few weeks in but a handy tip is that most places will have a Western toilet at the end of the row, so don’t despair!

Did the scholarship and experience open up any opportunities for you?

The scholarship really ignited my love for the language and motivated me to pursue my studies after finishing the program. It definitely strengthened my applications for the two Mandarin scholarships I went on to obtain in Beijing and Taipei.

From my classmates’ experiences, I know that prospective employers will consider the experience really highly for the cultural skills, language skills and the life skills it develops!

How are your Mandarin skills?

After six months in Wuhan I could hold a tentative conversation. After a full academic year in China I passed the HSK4 exam which means I can ‘converse in Chinese on a wide range of topics and am able to communicate fluently with native Chinese speakers’.

There’s still a long way to go but the more I learn, the more I am motivated to keep going! Saying that, I’m about to start studying in Taipei where I need to transition from Simplified to Traditional characters, so that will be a bit of a hurdle!

Can you tell us 3 lessons you learned while studying and living in China?

  1. Go with the flow - Lots of little things will be different to what you’re used to, so keep an open mind and have a flexible attitude when facing new situations.
  2. Don’t compare your language skills to others - Everyone learns differently so don’t compare progress with your classmates. You might be more visual and have clever ways of remembering characters, while your friend might understand how to pronounce the different tones. Help each other
  3. You don’t know how much you love home until you leave! - Living so far away in somewhere so culturally different really made me appreciate the things I take for granted at home. Learning about China actually helped me understand my own culture better

Finally, what would you say to students who are thinking of studying in China or applying to the scholarship?

Do it! Everyone’s experience will be different but keep an open mind and make the most of every opportunity.

You can travel extensively around China on a small budget and even get cheap flights to other Asian countries. Hostels are great and you can always find a bowl of noodles for about £2. What more could you want?!

If Chinese isn’t your thing, the British Council offers countless exciting opportunities all over the world and I would definitely recommend checking them out, packing your bags and setting off!

Click here for more information on Generation UK China opportunities.