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A Chinese Gap Year

Angus Gilbert

It is amazing the places that passion and curiosity can take you.

As a young man fresh out of high school I made the decision to move to Hangzhou, China, to take on an intensive course in Chinese Mandarin at Zhejiang University.

I loved studying Chinese language and culture in high school and coming to Hangzhou has definitely already gifted me with many fascinating experiences. My first week in Hangzhou has consisted of moving into my student dormitory, feasting on incredible food, starting classes and exploring the city of Hangzhou. I am located at Yuquan Campus, only a ten minute walk away from West Lake (西湖), one of China’s most famous scenic locations. I began the first day by exploring the campus by bike, admiring the ornate 1890’s classroom buildings on a crisp winter’s day. With a few free days before classes began, I decided to do things the local way to battle a small dose of homesickness. I played a few games of basketball with some local Chinese students at dusk, read a book on a park bench at the serene West Lake, got absolutely demolished in ping-pong by some future Olympians and tasted the many flavours of the local cuisine. One of my favourite parts of life on campus here at Zhejiang Uni are the cafeterias.

Student life

There are 4 cafeterias on campus that are open for lunch and dinner to cater for thousands of university students. But despite the magnitude of the food that is to be supplied each day, the quality and service is out of this world. A few of the meals I devoured in the first week were, pork dumplings, Chinese vegetables, Zhejiang style shredded beef, spicy chicken soup, egg noodles and mountains of rice for $0.10 a bowl. There are even a few stalls where you can order a bowl of noodles or rice with your choice of ingredients cooked fresh for you by the chefs on campus. You pay by using a student card and the grand total for a decent lunch and dinner for me each day is on average about $5.

Chinese student cafeteria

My first few classes started off with a bang, making friends with classmates that are from all over the world, classroom debates in Chinese about contemporary topics, as well as getting straight into some good old fashioned textbook study. I have 4 different classes that consist of intensive reading, grammar, speaking and listening. My timetable alternates between the morning and afternoon day to day, giving me plenty of time to either have a relaxing bike ride in the morning or a late afternoon game of basketball to wind down. My room mate here is a young scholar from Cambodia. We get along really well and love to share stories of our lives back home. For some, China seems like such a different country to the West. However, universities here have established excellent programmes for students of the Chinese language around the world, accommodating for a diverse audience with something for everyone. I have relished in the beginning of my chapter here China and cannot wait to see what it has in store for me next. I am also very excited that I will be able to put these experiences to good use in my roles with Sino-Immersions.

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