In Conversation with
Julia Zieba (ECNU)
Julia spent three weeks at East China Normal University in Shanghai, and graduated from Study China in 2019. She is an ardent learner of languages and cultures, and we were able to catch up with her this month to chat about her time on the programme.
Name: Julia Zieba
Degree: BA German and Chinese
Current Year: 2
University: The University of Manchester
Languages spoken fluently: Polish and English
Languages currently being learnt: German and Chinese
Q : What attracted you to apply for Study China?
Numerous factors caused me to apply. I found out about the programme from my Chinese language tutors, who mentioned several times that it is an experience worth applying for. I have also heard plenty of favourable opinions about it. Thus, encouraged by my friends and family, I applied.
Q : What did you hope to gain from the programme?
I hoped for an unforgettable experience in a city so far away from my home and so different from what I am used to.
Q : How important do you think it is to develop new language skills, and learn additional languages?
I cannot stress enough how important it is! I am an EU student, English is not my first language. If it was not for my willingness to learn another language, I would not be at my University to begin with, and would not have met my friends and colleagues here. Languages open many doors and make life so much more interesting and enriching.
Q : As a Chinese language student, what did you gain the most from being in China in regards to learning mandarin?
Learning Mandarin at university is intense, but Study China was even more intense! With all the activities going on outside of the classroom, I had to improve my time management skills in order to prepare for my classes properly. It did require memorizing a lot of vocabulary and grammar quickly, since I was tested on it almost every day. That was a bit of a challenge sometimes, but one simply had to get used to it. I am sure it will come in handy in my second year and my third year abroad.
Since our teacher only spoke Chinese, my ability to understand the context has become better as well. I think speaking is always the hardest part of learning the language, because mistakes are inevitable. It may be extremely hard at times to overcome initial fear of making a mistake in front of a native speaker, but that is the essence of learning a language—opening up! It did help immensely that our teacher was forcing us out of our comfort zone all the time—for instance, there was a lot of group work involved so one simply had to speak all the time.
Q : Other than language skills, what else have you gained from Study China?
I definitely became more spontaneous—there was always something going on and it was so easy to just jump on board and grab a meal with a group of people or go sightseeing. Again, I became more organized since the schedule was packed with either classes, meetings or excursions. And what about sleep and rest? It is difficult to manage these things all at once.
Q : Can you talk about your experiences and feelings about living alongside 100 other students on the programme? What was challenging, exciting, and what have you learnt?
I live in halls of residence, so I am used to having people around all the time. It was not particularly challenging, although it was harder to have some alone time, when one had to attend classes, group meetings and cultural activities on a daily basis. Study China is intense not only because of the daily Chinese classes, but also because of intense socializing. Staying in your room is not an option, especially since there is so much outside to explore! Of course, you will not like everyone you interact with, but you get to spend so much time with different people, either through group work at classes or during excursions, that you will at least learn to tolerate them.
Q : What is your advice to other students considering applying for Study China?
Do try to apply, no matter if you are fluent and have a bunch of Chinese friends or have never seen a Chinese character in your life. Most people have not! That is why you are going there: to learn and experience something new and perhaps step out of your comfort zone.
Q : What was the most fun thing you did on Study China?
Hard to choose! I think that the family visit was the highlight of the programme. We spent a nice afternoon with a Chinese family, went to a mall and a local fruit market, and then helped make dumplings for dinner. The family was really friendly and curious about us and were really interested in our impression of China. The small gifts we brought made them very happy. We talked about our daily lives, plans and had a lot of fun. The dumplings made for the meal and the hospitality I have been welcomed with reminded me so much of my home in Poland! Maybe we all are not that different after all?
Q : What are your 3 top Study China tips for those attending in 2020?
DO (and I cannot stress this enough) NOT, BY ANY MEANS, procrastinate and delay applying for your visa.
Make most of your classes, but remember to find time to explore! Whichever city you are going to be placed in, there will be a lot to see. And, as I have heard a lot of people say, when will be the next time you come back to China? Maybe never. So make most of your time whilst you are there.
Food is incredibly cheap- try as much of different dishes as you can, because your local Chinese takeaway will not be the same!
Q : Is there any final things you would like to add about your Study China experience?
I am glad I decided to participate. It was more than worth all the effort, stress and paperwork that I endured when preparing for the trip. Definitely the best summer I have had.
I was lucky enough to be selected for the Study China Programme in 2014 and travelled to Shandong University to study Mandarin and experience local Chinese culture. This was the first time I had ever signed up to a programme of this nature or been abroad alone before. I was definitely apprehensive but the support provided by the Study China team meant that I felt at ease as soon as I arrived in Beijing. It was a complete culture shock but I was so pleased to see how quickly I could pick up on the language with the intensive courses and I really enjoyed getting to know the Chinese students who were accompanying us throughout our experience. At the time, I didn't know where my career was going to take me, but since Study China I have developed a passion for language teaching and now teach English to international students in the British independent sector. A large portion of my students are Chinese and, even today, I rely heavily on the experiences I had in China to inform my teaching and pastoral care of these pupils. The Study China Programme has given me an invaluable insight into the cultural differences and similarities that I would otherwise have been ignorant to. I am grateful to the Programme for enabling such long-lasting effects, from friendships with both British and Chinese students to enhancing my professional career. If you're considering signing up, I'd say 'go for it!' because you never know where it may take you.
Holly Scrivener / Study China 2014 Shandong alumni
“It was such a wonderful experience and one I am incredibly proud to have been a part of. The organisation by the team in Manchester and those at ECNU was fantastic. I really enjoyed the teaching style of the lessons and would highly recommend my teacher to other students. I have made some incredible memories, spoken some questionable mandarin and certainly made friends for life. The experience has definitely broadened my horizons and I hope to return to China in the next couple of years to see more."
Emma Goldburn / Nottingham University / Study China 2019 ECNU alumni
"An opportunity of a lifetime: Study China was genuinely one of the best experiences of my life. Words and videos don’t even do it justice - you need to be there to really experience and appreciate the beauty of China, its language and heritage. 3 weeks might seem like a long time, but you’ll soon come to realise it’s far from it.
You’ll meet people from completely different backgrounds, make friends for life, develop social skills, become more mindful and culturally aware.
As said before, it's an experience of a lifetime!"
Luke Mcilreavey / Ulster University / Study China 2019 ECNU alumni
"I had an incredible experience studying at Beijing Normal University on the Study China programme. I made some fantastic new friends, developed confidence in my ability to travel alone and experienced a completely new culture and language! The family visit and a trip to a music shop where I bought a traditional Chinese flute were definitely highlights of the trip that I won't forget!"
Roanna Pedley / University of Leeds / Study China 2019 BNU alumni