February 18, 2013, by Katie Angus
I came from the School of English at Nottingham to the Division of English at Ningbo for this Spring Semester and when I tell other international or domestic students what I am studying, the main reactions are usually either long periods of confused silence or responses along the lines of, ‘Hang on, you’re in China to study English? You do English, in England, and you’ve come all this way to do it in China? Errm, why!?’.
I never considered how unusual my decision was to come to study for the Spring Semester of my second year here at UNNC, but thinking about it now, I realise that the decision was a pretty strange one. I speak no Mandarin, other than that I’ve hurriedly picked up in the last few days, and have never traveled further afield than Europe on my own. Yet, besides the trepidation of travelling far outside of Nottingham, England, and my comfort zone, the overwhelming nature of total immersion into a culture so vastly different from that of the UK has never once been totally crippling. I have never had a more colourful, frightening, confusing and fascinating experience as that which I have had in the last four days at Ningbo. I’m positive the next four months will set to be as rewarding and challenging and the experience is already starting to shape itself into a life changing event which will change how I view the UK, China, and University significantly –besides, I want to tell you all about it!
Coming here alone, and as an exchange student from the School of English means that I don’t understand microeconomics, statistics, business and scariest of all, Mandarin, unlike most other international students I’ve met so far. However, it does mean that I get to read novels and poems whilst the others pour over the plain, monotonous prose of subject textbooks and most importantly, gives me more time to improve my ability in ping pong; a vital skill in China. The first weekend here comprised of a collection of social gatherings for all the international students who arrived in Ningbo before the domestic students. The Vis-à-vis team (a society of students who promote the language buddy system between Chinese and International students) alongside David Zhang, the overseer for all the internationals –and first port of call when language barriers prove a little to impenetrable in the Mandarin-only shops on campus- organised trips into Ningbo city where the modern and historic parts of China merge into a strange concoction of the contemporary and the classical and where imposing skyscrapers dominate the skyline above the walls of the ponds and pagodas of the Tianyi Chamber, the oldest existing library in China. The Ningbo skyline also bursts into colour at night, and remains a hive of activity with shopping centres and restaurants open well into the late evening. Food is unlike anything you would ever get in England: duck tongue, bamboo and frogs are all surprisingly delicious and chopsticks get easier and easier to use (so I’m told)!
I’ve also noticed the contrasts in cultures and appearances mean when in town, western faces attract much attention. Being tall, fair haired, pale or blue or green-eyed (only two from that combination apply to me but hasn’t seemed to reduce the attention) guarantees lingering stares and visual interest in your appearance. Expect to be asked to star in family photos, or to be handed children to hold whilst the moment is captured forever for a photo album you’ll never see. Though the experience I find is hardly intimidating, people look with curiosity – If you ever want to know what it may feel like being a recognised celebrity, or well known face, take a window seat at a restaurant here and I’m sure you’ll agree!
I’ll be back within the week to share some more experiences of life in Ningbo, but with lectures and seminars which are less populated, (there’s four in Invention and Tradition) means I have to dedicate more time to work a bit harder. Unfortunately the weather is still as cold as Nottingham, and the geese here chase you (and bite, if you don’t run) but I have no 9ams, so it is all balanced!