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Loving China for its language
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By Yan Pei

Overseas students come to China for all kinds of reasons. For Eric, it's the Chinese language that attracted him.

Coming to study in China wasn't just an idea that popped into Eric's head; he had it all planned out.

Although Eric's major in Harvard is politics, he's always been interested in learning languages.

"My parents came from Peru and moved to the US before I was born. So I have been able to speak English and Spanish fluently since I was a child," said Eric. He thinks the multilingual environment in his early years sparked his interest in languages.

Two years ago Eric started to take Chinese language lessons in the US. When asked why he chose Chinese, he said, "Because Chinese culture is so different, I thought it would be fun and meaningful to learn the language."

"Plus," he added with a smile, "I was told that Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world, which made me even more attracted to it."

Eric believes the best way to learn a language is to go to the country and live among the people. So he started looking for ways to come and study in China.

"It took some effort to find my way here because there are no such programs in Harvard." said Eric. He wanted to come to China to study Chinese, but at the same time he also wanted his study in China to be acknowledged by Harvard. In the end, the Alliance for Global Education, a US-based education institution, fulfilled both his requirements and led him to Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). 

Curious about China

Before he came to Beijing, Eric had always marked China with the label "traditional". As a result, he was surprised when he finally arrived in the real Beijing.

"Of course Beijing still has a traditional side, but most of the city, city planning, transportation, and people's lives – are so modern now." said Eric.

- Food

Chinese restaurants are very popular in the US and Eric was no stranger to Chinese food. But he didn't expect so much difference between the Chinese food served in America and in China.

"The food here is nothing like the Chinese food I had back home." Eric said.

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But he said real Chinese food is much better- "a real treat" as he put. Eric was also surprised by the variety of dishes. "It's amazing that the Chinese have so many ways of cooking the same thing." he said, taking eggplants as an example. "I've had at least four completely different flavors of eggplants since I got here and, weirdly, I love all four ways."

However, it's not easy for Eric to get what he wants at restaurants. Since many restaurants' menus don't contain pictures of the dishes, Eric finds it hard to find out what the dish has in it. "I can read Chinese characters, but most of the time I just couldn't understand what the name of the dish means. They are too complicated. It's a pity there's no photos of the dish," he said.

- Travel & Fun

Like most foreigners, Eric loves to travel in his spare time, not only to the scenic travel spots but also to local commercial centers.

"The Summer Palace is my favorite place in Beijing because the view there is so beautiful," said Eric. During the summer and autumn, he cycles there and takes long walks in the park, feeling calm and peaceful.

Speaking of places where he likes to hang out with friends, Eric mentioned the usual foreigner haunts of Sanlitun and Wudaokou. He said both places have a diverse population- you can meet people from all over the world- so foreigners like him feel more at home.

However, Eric said that it's not easy to traveling around the city because the transport system is not so good. "Transportation is the only inconvenient part for me," he said, "I wish there were more buses, because they are so crowded."

- People & Society

Chinese people have surprised Eric with their friendliness to foreigners and their level of English. "The Chinese are always willing to help a foreigner," said Eric, adding that a foreigner trying to speak Chinese- like himself- normally gets even better treatment.

According to Eric, Chinese hospitality helped him get through his first month here, when everything was strange and he wasn't able to speak Chinese.

"They were really patient - they would wait for me to finish my question; then they would explain to me repeatedly until I understood it all; and sometimes even took the trouble to ask someone else for help when they didn't understand me," said Eric.

Eric didn't expect many Chinese to be able to speak English but "many people, especially the young, know some day-to-day English," said Eric.

Majoring in politics, Eric has his own view of China's political system. In his opinion, as long as a political system benefits the nation and its people, it is a good system. "Although the one-party system is in the a minority around the world, it works well in China," Eric argued, "the Chinese economy has been growing for years and the Chinese people are obviously living a better life- that's what matters."

Learning Chinese with a goal

According to Eric, coming to China turned out to be a wise decision. After three months of study, he is now speaking much better Chinese- well enough for him to speak Chinese the whole time during this interview. "Since I got here, I've been making more progress than ever before," Eric said.

Eric's program provides daily language lessons, area studies and internship placements. He is now an intern at the American Chamber of Commerce, where he gets to practice his Chinese and learn more about China.

Although Eric is not required by the program to achieve any language qualifications, he has set a goal for himself, to pass the Elementary and Intermediate Chinese Proficiency Test.

"I'll pass it," said Eric with a confident smile.

For information about studying at Beijing Language and Culture University, check here

(China.org.cn November 26, 2008)

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