Chinese Family Pair Sharing

Each semester at JUFE every exchange student is given the opportunity to apply to take part in the Chinese family pair sharing program. This program is designed to increase each student’s understanding of Chinese culture, customs and traditions by becoming an “adopted” member of the family. This semester I was adopted by the lovely Zhang family who consist of Xiaobei, Shirley and their daughter Jessica who were all very kind in taking me on an outing to Yaohu Lake in the western outskirts of Nanchang.

Xiaobei is a town planner for Nanchang local government and one of his recent projects was the development and design of a Tulip exhibition park of over one million tulips and other flowers which were imported from the Netherlands and it was on my visit to Yaohu Lake that I was able to have the opportunity to visit this exhibition and view his handiwork.  The exhibition park layout was designed to resemble a Dutch countryside and included windmills and dykes whilst also incorporating some Chinese flair with cartoon characters, Chinese plants and water features.

The tulip exhibition reminded me very much of the Floriade festival held every spring in Canberra in Australia and I spent a lovely afternoon exploring the park, appreciating the beauty of all of the flowers and learning about several varieties of Chinese blossoms including lotus blossoms, jasmine blossoms and cherry tree blossoms.  I was then treated to a lovely meal with my adopted Chinese family which included some traditional Chinese cuisines including fish, black chicken soup, spicy tofu, fried pork, plenty of green steamed vegetables as well as rice of course!

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Shirley had studied her Masters degree at the University of South Australia in Adelaide and over our meal we made easy conversation about our favourite aspects of Australia, the differences and similarities to studying in China compared to Australia and about the many provinces and cities around China that I have been fortunate to visit during my student exchange programme.

We concluded our day with a speed boat ride on Yaohu Lake during which I was able to take in the spectacular view of Nanchang city, the tulip park and beach waterfront of lake where you are able to go swimming, sunbathe and host bbq’s, perfect for those hot, humid summer days that will soon be upon Nanchang.  I am very thankful to have such a kind and accommodating Chinese family to share adventures and experiences with during my time in Nanchang and am very much looking forward to our next meeting!

Finance student become Kindergarten teacher

It is common in China for foreigners to gain employment as English language teachers, especially if you are from native speaking countries. This semester I was fortunate to be asked to teach English to Kindergarten children on a part time basis which I thought would be a wonderful opportunity to build on my employability skills and attributes.

Every Friday morning I spend 2 hours at a local kindergarten in Nanchang city where I teach six, 20 minute English language classes. Each class is at a different level of English proficiency. My first three classes are at the second level of English where they are able to recognise and speak some basic English words – Hello, Good morning, How are you,  I’m fine thank you and so on. My fourth class is at level 3 proficiency where they understand concepts such as family members, basic food items and the names of various animals and objects and my last two classes consist of children aged only two and three years old and therefore have not English language understanding. These last two classes are my favourite class as I get to watch the excitement on each child’s face as I reveal the new words them each week. At first I wondered if children this young would retain any of the information that I was teaching them only to be amazed that within only a few short weeks they are able to count to 5, sing happy birthday and name basic body features such as head and nose!

I found teaching English to be very daunting at first, however I was able to build upon my skills by finding similarities to the way in which my teachers are currently teaching the foreign students at JUFE Chinese language. When learning Chinese, the teachers use a variety of techniques ranging from visual media, recorded conversations, pictures and written phrases to assist us in remembering the words, their meaning, their Chinese characters and basic sentence structures. I have been able to incorporate these techniques into my English language classes – through the use of flash card I am able to help the students associate letters and pictures with the new words, using interactive media such as PowerPoints to simulate oral conversations, role plays to visualise the meaning of the words and lots and lots of repetition and patience I can see great improvement in the proficiency levels of all of my classes each week.

From this experience I believe that I have gained many important skills and attributes such as planning, organising, initiative, flexibility, interpersonal sensitivity, leadership and self-confidence. I know longer view teaching to be a daunting task but rather I am now enjoying this amazing learning experience and Friday mornings have now become my favourite time of the week!

Road trip to Wuyan

I have been at JUFE for over one week and classes are now in full swing!  This semester I am taking mostly Chinese language courses including reading, speaking, listening and comprehensive Chinese.  I did take some comprehensive Chinese classes last semester, however, despite this, the classes this semester are proving to be equally challenging, especially listening and speaking classes as many words sound similar but have different meanings depending on which of the four tones they are spoke in!!  Our teachers have suggested that the best way to practice improving on these skills is to become immersed in the Chinese culture and what better way to do this than for a group of newly found friends to take a short weekend trip!

My new friends from Germany, Lena and Sebastian, and my new friends from Czech, Sophia and Lenka, decided that it would be nice to experience some traditional Chinese culture by exploring the villages of Wuyuan together.  Wuyuan is located in Jiangxi province, north of Nanchang and is renowned for picturesque landscapes, rapeseed and tea leaf crops and architecture that dates back to the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1911) dynasties.

Our journey began on Friday where we took a high speed train from Nanchang to Wuyuan which was such a unique experience!  These trains travel at over 300 km per hour however being inside felt like you are flying in an airplane or taking a casual drive down a country road! It was so smooth and cut our travel time in half from over 5 hours to just over two and a half hours.

High_speed_Train

Train Speed

On arrival at Wuyuan the first village we visited was Likeng where we strolled the winding streets built over creeks, saw traditional homesteads and visited a Taoist temple where we lit incense and gave thanks….a truly humbling experience! We each brought a “wish” that was written on a red ribbon and blessed by a Taoist monk and then tied our wishes to the “wishing tree” outside of the temple. In Chinese culture the colour red symbolizes good luck and joy and it is believed that tying the ribbon to the “wishing tree” will make the wish come true. The higher the ribbon is tied, the more likely it is that the wish will come true.

After our tour of Likeng, we needed to check into our hostel and this brought about the first opportunity to test out our new found Chinese language skills as we negotiated the size and price for the rooms and also to have breakfast included the next morning! While this was a rather difficult task as our Chinese was very limited and the residents of Wuyuan spoke with a different accent to those of Nanchang as they belong to a different minority group and no English, we felt very proud of ourselves once we reached our end result!

The next two days were spent exploring Xiaoqu, Huanling and Guankeng villages where we saw rapeseed crops, tea leaf plants arranged on terraces and local crafts such as calligraphy and rice wine making, all whilst trying our best to order food, ask for directions and organise transportation all in Chinese language!  While we are far from expert level, I believe that these experiences have increased my appreciation and understanding of the role history has played in the shaping of Chinese culture and have greatly assisted in the continuing improvement of my Mandarin abilities and I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity where I can put them into practice!

My love of China

My fascination with China began when I was fortunate to win a local competition in my hometown of Wagga Wagga to be an ambassador of the city for one year. During this time, I travelled to China for the first time as part of a local government delegation.  The two weeks I spent travelling around this vibrant and culturally rich country was such an eye opening experience that when I was presented with the opportunity to visit again as part of a CSU Global Short Term International Program, I couldn’t pack my suitcase fast enough! Both of these experiences enabled me to gain an understanding and appreciation for Chinese culture and the Chinese way of life, however the most authentic Chinese experience that I have gained has been during my time a an international exchange student.

From September 2015 through to January 2016 I took part in an international student exchange program at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics (JUFE) and the knowledge, experience, friendships and attributes I gained during this time were so valuable that I decided to extend my exchanged for a second semester.  This came as quiet a surprise to my friends and family who frequently asked the question “China? Again? Why?”

One of the many benefits in taking part in a CSU Global program as a Distance Education student is that it allows you to fast track your degree by either direct subject credits or completion of elective subjects at a full-time study rate. As I have been fortunate to participate in two such programs, my graduation date has been brought forward by two years which has started the process of researching graduate jobs that I would like to apply for upon completion of my degree. One such graduate program that I am extremely interested in is the National Australia Bank Financial Planning Graduate Program and as part of this program, proficiency in an Asian language is highly desirable. Upon realising this, I decided that I would need to increase my skills in Mandarin and what better place to do this than in the country where it is the mother language and I can read, hear and speak this language on a daily basis.

I remember when I first arrived in Nanchang at the beginning of my first semester of exchange I struggled with the language barrier, the very different food available and being so far away from my family, friends and familiar surroundings, however, arriving for my second semester was rather contrast to my first experience.  Arriving at the international students residence at JUFE was like coming home after a long vacation, seeing all of the wonderful friends I met last semester was like being reunited with family and the language, food and surroundings were less daunting and I felt as though I have made the city of Nanchang my second home.

While returning to JUFE brings familiarity, it also provides a similar level of excitement equal to my first arrival through a new intake of exchange students, giving me the opportunity to extend my China family (pictured above) by meeting new people and making new friends. This semester I am joined by new students from Brazil, USA, Peru, Mexico, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland and the Netherlands.

We all had a wonderful time getting to know one another during the first few days and it was refreshing to see my new friends settle into life in China by exploring the city and being adventurous with the local cuisine. It was also wonderful to be able to offer a helping hand and some advice to make this transition a little more comfortable for all.

After our first week at JUFE we are all beginning to settle in and I look forward to the many adventures that we will have and the memories we will create together.

My JUFE Family

Wow! It is hard to comprehend that there is only one month left of my student exchange left!

During the past three months that I have spent at JUFE I have been fortunate to establish friendships with fellow exchange students that I know will last a lifetime and we now consider each other as family which is a comforting concept leading into the holiday season.

Although China, the city of Nanchang and the JUFE campus are now considered home to all exchange students, there are still moments during which each of us has felt a little homesick for the customs, traditions and familiarity of our home countries.  These moments have enable us to  strengthen the bonds of our friendship as we band together to help lift each other’s spirits and have also provided me with the opportunity to enjoy many cultural traditions of countries that I am yet to visit.

To date I have joined in the celebration of 3 birthdays, Canadian thanksgiving, Halloween and American thanksgiving and each of these events has helped to overcome the feeling of nostalgia associated with being away from family and loved ones during our most important times of the year. We also have discovered a very nice restaurant nearby the campus which we have termed “our family restaurant “at which we all gather once a week to enjoy a “family” meal together, similar to that of the “Sunday roast” I am accustomed to in Australia.

Canada_nick Canada_Nick_bday thanksgiving Oleh_Ukraine_bday Anna_Germ Anna_Germany_Bday

Being surround by such wonder people who genuinely care about each other will proved to most important during the coming weeks, for as the Christmas and New Year periods are fast approaching in Australia, and indeed most countries the world over, for the exchange students at JUFE these week signal course work revision and examination preparation weeks for our examination period begins on 24 December and finished on 31 December which is sure to have even the emotionally strongest person feeling a little homesick!  However, with this in mind, my JUFE family are presently undergoing preparation to ensure that we all feel at home as much as possible during this time.  We are arranging to have a Christmas tree set up on our floor or the international student building, have begun to set up Christmas decorations in our rooms and have identified the person for which will be purchasing a “ Secret Santa” gift for.

I know that when it comes time for me to leave China and return to Australia that I will miss my JUFE family as much as I missed my own family and friends during the initial weeks of my student exchange.

All Hallows Eve

As most of the international students are now halfway through their student exchange programs, we are becoming increasingly familiar with the Nanchang lifestyle, which has resulted in some of the students being recruited to help some of the local Nanchang children learn English. As a result I was invited to assist with a children’s Halloween party with some of my fellow JUFE students.

This invitation required  us to dress up in costumes which we hired from a local store (these included a geisha, an army general, Wednesday Adams and the Joker), play some traditional western party games with the children, such as apple bobbing and trick or treating and help them learn some of the English language.  This experience was not only a lot of fun but it also provided me with some insight into some similarities between the Australian and Chinese cultures.

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For example, I have been finding it rather challenging to learn the Chinese language especially the characters, tones and grammar.  At the party I discovered that the Chinese students were finding it just as challenging to learn English as to them the letters and words were equivalent to the lines and squiggles of my Chinese characters and the pronunciation of the “r” and “l” sounds were also rather difficult for them.  I also discovered that the students were as equally as interested in increasing their understanding of Australian culture asking lots of questions about the food, animals, landscape and traditional celebrations.  This provided an excellent opportunity to explain what a kangaroo was and to clarify that the do not live and jump down the main streets of Sydney, tell them about Santa Claus and the various ways in which we celebrate Christmas in Australia and to compare our cuisines which are viewed as cold in temperature, bland in flavour and strange in texture by the Chinese people as they prefer warm and spicy dishes.

In turn, I discovered that some of these western traditions, such as Halloween, were finding a place in the Chinese culture. The Chinese now celebrate Christmas as well, however it is not the big family gathering that I am accustomed to in Australia but rather a time where young couples spend time with their boyfriends and girlfriends, enjoy a meal together and exchange gifts, a custom very similar to that of western cultures valentine’s day.

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We ended the event feeling as though each culture was able gain greater insight into and harbor higher appreciation for the other and that we had also made some dear friends in the process.

Golden Week National Holiday

After four weeks of adjusting to campus life, settling into class schedules and tackling the steady inflow of assignments, the Golden Week National holiday provide the perfect opportunity to be able to go exploring around nearby provinces and soak up some more of the Chinese culture.

The Golden Week National Holiday was from 1 October to 7 October and is arranged so that workers in Chinese companies always have seven continuous days of holiday and enable them the opportunity to travel and help expand the domestic tourism market, improve the national standard of living and allow people to make long-distance family visits. With this in mind, my Polish friend Gosia and I decided that we would make our contribution to the domestic tourism market and travel to the city of Wuhan situated in neighbouring Hubei province.

We decided that we wanted to experience as much Chinese culture as possible during the week which started with catching a local train from Nanchang to Wuhan. The train ride was a 10 hour round trip and, being the only foreigners on the train, provided the perfect opportunity to meet some new friends and practice by very basic Chinese I learned in class.Nanchang_station friends_on_train

Once we had arrived in Wuhan, our cultural experience continued as we checked into our hostel where we shared a room with four other Chinese girls. All of the girls were extremely nice and very excited to be sharing a room with two foreigners!  After initial introductions and getting to know our roommates, we all went to dinner together and we were able to help each other with our Chinese skills and our new friends with their English.

The next morning we set out to explore the sites of Wuhan. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province and is it most populous city in central China. It is a city rich in history and is where Mao Tse-tung formed and developed the Chinese Communist party, therefore the first place on our list to visit was the Hubei Provincial Museum  which contained many historical artefacts and details about Chairman Mao’s contribution to the communist revolution as well as artefacts from the tomb of Marquis Yi (Zenghouyi), who lived in the 5th century B.C.

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Over the next few days we also visited Wuhan University which is one of the largest and most picturesque campuses in China, Yellow Crane tower, Boatong temple and strolled along the banks of the Yangtze River.

Wuhan_University Yangtze_river Yellow_Crane_tower_day Yellow_Crane_tower_night Boaton_temple Boatong_templeII