Fish and chips and Mandarin: a PR student in China

This is an article by Nicola Burrough.
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Nicola Burrough

Nicola Burrough

This Easter I was lucky enough to be chosen to go on a government-funded educational trip to Nanjing, China along with 40 other university students from across the UK.

The application process was very similar to that of a job application. We had to fill out an online application answering questions such as why we think we’d be suitable for the programme and what we thought we’d get from the experience.

During the opening ceremony we were told that over 600 people had applied so I felt privileged to have been chosen and vowed to make the most of the experience.

As we had lessons every morning we stayed in a hotel on the Nanjing university campus. We were paired up when we arrived but luckily my roommate and I got on amazingly well. It reminded me of being in halls again as everybody was really nervous when we arrived but in a matter of days we’d really bonded as a group.

When we first ventured out of our hotel we quickly discovered that nobody spoke English.

Our Chinese language classes became a lifeline to understanding the world around us. We got through though using a lot of pointing, mimes and occasionally a Chinese dictionary app. We had three hours of Chinese classes every morning and I was amazed at how quickly my language skills developed. By the end of the programme I could have a basic conversation and could order food.

When not in class we were free to explore Nanjing ourselves. This used to be the capital city of China so has a lot of ancient buildings blended with modern high rises. We were given a map with a list of tourist destinations in our welcome pack and we made it our mission to tick them all off before we left.

Zifeng tower

Zifeng tower

One of my favourite trips was a visit to the Zifeng tower which is the seventh tallest building in the world.

From the viewing platform you could see the whole of Nanjing and it really gave us perspective of how large Nanjing is and how different it is from home.

Another one of my favourite trips was a visit to the Confucius temple which for me just typified traditional China. We were lucky enough to be there when there was a lantern exhibition which was stunning when it was lit up at night.

We also had organised day trips to Suzhou which is known as ‘the Venice of the east’ and Shanghai. The day trips gave us a much more rounded view of China and Shanghai gave me a chance to test my haggling skills.

Having been home for a few weeks, I have had time to reflect on my experience in China. I have never fallen in love with a country and culture as much as I have with China.

When I arrived everything seemed very strange (such as the not being 100% certain what I’d ordered before it came) but I really didn’t want to leave. The three weeks zoomed past in a blur of new foods, amazing architecture and incredible people.

This trip was intended to promote China to the UK and for me it definitely achieved this. I’ve spoken nonstop about my trip to my friends and family and everything I have to say is positive. I have also continued learning Mandarin, I am currently taking an online course but am hoping to take up lessons soon. I also really do hope that I will return to China possibly to teach English after I have finished my degree.

We also promoted the UK to Chinese students and I’m sure they gained a new perspective on British culture from us: they thought we just ate fish and chips!

On an employability level this trip has improved my networking skills which are a really important aspect of PR.  I’m also hoping to build a career within a global company so having language skills will benefit me greatly when applying to jobs. I also took an exam in Spoken Mandarin and Contemporary Chinese Culture which I’ve put on my CV and will hopefully make me stand out to employers.

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