It has been a good five years since I first visited China on a high school trip and four years since I graduated from Rutherford College. Not for a single second have I forgotten both experiences. Both have planted me firm roots for the budding opportunities to come and lifelong friends and teachers flying alongside me in ‘V formation’ throughout the journey. Finally, though not quite at my destination, I am proud to be in my fourth year of studying a Law and Arts degree majoring in Politics and Chinese at the University of Auckland this year. I hope this gives you all a taste of my language journey and who and what I packed in my parachute every day.
During high school, I had always known Chinese would become useful but quite frankly at the time, I never knew just how many doors it would open for me. Nonetheless, I had the opportunity to go on the China trip in 2014 and compete in the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition administered by the Confucius Institute where I was placed third in Auckland. My fascination for Chinese grew by the day and I soon found myself taking up Chinese as a major in University. Since I had studied Chinese throughout high school and demonstrated some competence, I was able to skip a year and was placed straight into a second year level Chinese class as a first year student.
Learning Chinese at University was definitely a bit more challenging; it involved more self study and motivation. To obtain a Chinese degree at the University of Auckland, cultural, history and politics papers about China are also compulsory so you are able to gain an all-round understanding of China. Moreover, summer school papers abroad are offered to those who study languages which are perfect opportunities for linguistic and cultural immersion.
In my second year of university, I was very lucky to be selected for a group Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia to attend summer school at Yunnan University Southwest of China. I was not only able to study Chinese and later be awarded first in course for this paper, but had the chance to see and experience the everyday lives of ethnic minorities, learn of their history and culture unknown to much of the world. Aside from Kunming, I also travelled to Dali, Lijiang, Guiyang, Guilin, Guangzhou, Xiamen and even Hong Kong experiencing changes of cuisine, culture, dialects and environment.
Just last summer, I was again fortunate to be awarded an individual Prime Minister’s Scholarship to Asia and set off to National Cheng Kung University of Tainan, Taiwan followed by an internship at an intellectual property law firm in Zhuhai, China. The internship is a testimony to how learning Chinese has further helped my path in the law career, it has offered me work experience in another country which wouldn’t have even been an option if I did not speak Chinese. Many of you, like I did, may think Taiwan would be very similar to mainland China, but this trip completely changed my perspective. From using traditional characters instead of simplified, to the night market life, the food and local Taiwanese language, Taiwan offered something different. Ms. Hsiao had always encouraged me to go if I had the chance and I am so glad I did!
Most importantly, I think the people I meet each time I go abroad makes the exchange all the more special. Having the opportunity to stay with a host family definitely gives you an insight into the local life, I would even say it may be the epitome of the whole exchange experience! Most recently, I was able to catch up with my host sister who I stayed with 5 years ago when I was in Shanghai during the Rutherford China trip. You just never know when and where people will take you.
My interest in China has propelled me to actively engage in further clubs and organisations that align with these interests. Last year I helped organise the annual Asia Savvy conference which brings over 100 students together to shed light of the opportunities available in Asia and this year I have been appointed Director of the New Zealand China Trade Association Young Associates (NZCTA YA). None of these opportunities would have been made possible without my first step in taking Chinese as a year 9 student to spark my interest for China.
Reflecting back and looking forward to the future ahead, I am more than grateful to have had the chance to study Chinese from such a young age. The world is becoming more and more integrated and China still stands as New Zealand’s top trading partner. Therefore, it is becoming more and more important and advantageous for Kiwis to equip themselves with the language and cultural competency to build bridges and make our interactions smoother. Recruits now and furthermore in the future are looking for students and graduates that can demonstrate this potential. I strongly encourage more students to take up Chinese as their second language, I can guarantee from personal experience it will become nothing but a huge asset for their future. Knowing that there is no one recipe for success, I encourage students to strive for their personal excellence by maximizing the opportunities already available to them now, especially at Rutherford; big enough to offer opportunities, small enough to care.