What attracted me to China, its culture and language

By Kelsey Mckue
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 17, 2022
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Throughout primary and secondary school, the only languages on offer to me and my classmates were French and German. However, I wanted to venture outside the curriculum in search of ways to challenge and engage myself, and I knew learning Mandarin would both provide me with global opportunities and enhance my cultural intelligence. Becoming involved with Chinese language and culture was a personal interest because of the history and arts as well as my awareness of China's significance on a global scale.

For as long as I can remember, having Chinese takeaways was a family favourite and even though I knew the dishes would be extremely different in China, I came to love experimenting with Chinese food. At my local Chinese restaurant, the owners would teach me a different phrase each time I visited. I can clearly recall the first one I learnt — "Ni chile ma?", which means "Have you eaten?" and is a common greeting used across China. I quickly became friends with them, and in my late teens I even worked in their restaurant. There they introduced me to popular music artists, Chinese New Year customs and the taste of baijiu — China's national liquor. 

Eating hot pot with friends in Beijing. [Photo provided by Kelsey Mckue]

Not long after, I downloaded apps like HelloTalk and communicated with native speakers, seeing photos of their hometown, and asking questions about popular TV shows and etiquette. During my last year at college, I decided to teach myself the basics of Mandarin through YouTube and podcasts. I also familiarised myself with Chinese culture by visiting Chinatown in London and through events at my local Confucius Institute. 

I often watched Chinese TV series and movies, and read about the history of China. After seeing photos of food and places and admiring the beauty of calligraphy, I finally decided in 2017 that I wanted to improve my knowledge by applying to study Chinese at university.

During a visit to the 798 Art District in Beijing. [Photo provided by Kelsey Mckue]

Part of my university experience was going abroad to study at Beijing Normal University for six months before the pandemic in 2019. I became further involved in the culture and language when a friend and I randomly asked a native speaker on campus for directions, and from then we became great friends. My new friend, Yun, often helped me with problems such as finding parcels and the campus canteens, and even introduced me to hot pot and took me to the cinema. My many experiences with her helped me understand Chinese culture at a deeper level and become more involved with life in China. To this day, we still keep in touch with one another, keeping each other updated on our lives, as well as sharing cultural insights and language learning tips.

Kelsey Mckue is an undergraduate student in Modern Chinese at the University of Cardiff.

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