“African Students Are Interested in Chinese Elements”

[Source]    The Beijing News [Time]    2018-09-06 10:11:05 

In May, 2016, Liu Lingyun and some freshmen in front of the Confucius statue at the Confucius Institute at the University of Zimbabwe (Photo by interviewees)

To popularize Chinese and promote the spread of the Chinese language and culture overseas, Hanban launched the Volunteer Chinese Teachers Program in 2004. By the end of 2017, the program had covered 139 nations and regions around the world, and sent 47,000 volunteer Chinese teachers to other countries in total.

In the host countries, these volunteers were not only teaching Chinese, but also acting as non-governmental envoys for cultural exchanges and communication. On August 21st, 2014, Liu Lingyun, a student from Renmin University of China (RUC), set her first step on the continent of Africa, and started her two-year volunteer Chinese teaching in Zimbabwe.

Mia Couto, a Mozambican writer and popular candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, once said in an interview: “The biggest misconception of Africa is to regard Africa as a whole and term it simply as ‘Africa’.”

Speaking of her impression of Africa, Liu Lingyun said that the differences between the north and the south, the west and the east of Africa were actually huge, and people outside always make sweeping generalizations with colored glasses. “I am so lucky to visit Zimbabwe and explore the mystery of this land”, she said.

Her Views on Africa Changes after Teaching Chinese in Zimbabwe for Two Years

The Beijing News: Why did you go to Africa to teach Chinese?

Liu Lingyun: When I studied in the Graduate School of RUC in 2014, I majored in International Education of Chinese Language. At that time, RUC was a partner of many Confucius Institutes overseas, including some in Europe and Africa, and many students were eager to practice their teaching abilities as volunteer Chinese teachers. The Confucius Institute at the University of Zimbabwe was just the counterpart of RUC, so I applied for the program in Zimbabwe. After personnel selection, I was given a job to teach in Zimbabwe. I taught Chinese there as a volunteer from August, 2014 to August, 2016, and my stereotype of Africa, like many other people’s, was overturned during the two years of teaching there.

The Beijing News: What prompted you to make up your mind to go to Zimbabwe?

Liu Lingyun: Like many fellow students, my prior choice was Europe, but a senior who had gone to Zimbabwe changed my mind. She came to our classroom to lecture on Zimbabwe’s program. When addressing the safety issue, she said that Zimbabwe was not as “war-devastated” as people might imagine, but rather, Zimbabwe was peaceful and comfortable. Then she showed some pictures of the fascinating scenery there which greatly impressed me. It was quite different from what I had thought before, so I wanted to go there.

“Chinese Delicacy” Stalls Are Often Tightly Packed

The Beijing News: What did you mainly do in Zimbabwe in the two years?

Liu Lingyun: I was mainly teaching Chinese at the Confucius Institute of the University of Zimbabwe, and at the same time I was also a part-time academic secretary managing books and organizing some cultural activities.

At the Confucius Institute of the University of Zimbabwe, Chinese was highly appreciated. In my second year there, the University of Zimbabwe was preparing to set up a special Chinese major. The university and the whole country were supportive to the Confucius Institute and friendly to China.

The Beijing News: What did you teach in Chinese class? And what feedbacks did you get from your students?

Liu Lingyun: In my first year there, I taught Chinese in the School of Business. Students there had 6-hour Chinese classes a week and I had to teach them basics of Chinese. Later on HSK (a standard test of Chinese) was set as students’ assessment criteria by the Confucius Institute which was similar to CET4 and CET6 in China’s universities. We taught students by referring to the different levels of the test.

In September 2014, when I gave my first class, I followed the example of a senior: asking students to introduce themselves first, and then introducing to them something about Chinese culture, like the Great Wall, Kung Fu, Chinese characters, pandas and dumplings. They were very interested in what I said. Whatever I talked about, they listened to me quietly and attentively. That scene reminds me of the three protagonists in the film American Dreams in China working hard at English in order to go to America. I found that these students had positive attitudes toward Chinese culture. Afterwards, we held the “Confucius Institute Day” and set up “Chinese delicacy” stalls which were usually popular with them; we also organized local students to take part in celebrations in the University of Zimbabwe, dressed up in traditional Chinese costumes, and they were thrilled to try on these clothes.

Two of Her Students from Zimbabwe Studying in China Gives Her a Sense of Accomplishment

The Beijing News: Among the Chinese language learners, who impressed you most?

Liu Lingyun: I had a student called Nomore, the youngest kid in his family with a few elder brothers and sisters. When he was born, his mother said “no more kids”, so he was named Nomore.

Nomore was a student in the School of Business; his major wasn’t Chinese but he was diligent and talented in learning languages. He would also study by himself after class. Before I taught him Chinese, he had already studied the summer course at RUC. After that he studied in China for a year and passed HSK 6, the highest level of Chinese standard test. Last month, he sent an email to me, saying that he was admitted by Beijing Language and Culture University for a master’s degree, and he would leave Harare on September 3rd and would arrive in Beijing on September 4th. The two days coincide with the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-African Cooperation in 2018.

Another student called Chen Tian was not very gifted in learning language and his pronunciation was not very good. He applied for several times for studying in China but missed by a few scores from the requirement. I thought he had given up learning Chinese, but a few months ago he emailed me, saying that he has come to China and studied in Beijing Institute of Technology. I noticed from his email that his Chinese was fluent and he used Chinese in sharing things on his WeChat Moments.

These excellent students have given me a sense of accomplishment. From them, I see the power of persistence.

Zimbabweans Are Born Dancers

The Beijing News: What was your life like in Zimbabwe, apart from teaching?

Liu Lingyun: Clothes, food, shelter and transportation in Zimbabwe were quite different from those in China. For example, a local traditional staple dish called Sadza was thick and sticky, made from corn flour. Traditionally, people there used their hands to dip it into a sauce before eating it, but due to British influence, they now use a knife and a fork except on some special occasions.

Zimbabwe’s transportation was not well-developed; the local people would take “Kombi”, like the van in China, but most vehicles of this kind were very old. Once I went to the downtown from the university by taking a Kombi. Each van had four or five rows of seats, and four or five people were crowded in each row. Each passenger was assured to have a seat, but it seemed a little hilarious to stare into the back side of other passengers’ heads.

Sometimes the local residents would organize some cultural activities. They seemed to be born dancers, and they could dance when the music started. In a chorus, they could divide their voice roles consciously by themselves. People there were innately optimistic and full of vigor. Music and dance are also a part of their culture.

(Story by Wang Mengyao, The Beijing News, Page A06, September 2nd, 2018)

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