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Why I decided to study Chinese

為什麼?If you’re learning Chinese, you’ll certainly get asked this question a few times a week:

“So, why Chinese?”

No matter what answer you give, people always point out at that “China is rising” and “Chinese is the language of the future”. Funnily enough, I’ve never actually met someone learning Chinese who gives these reasons.

The most common answers from other people I come across are:

  • They wanted a challenge.
  • They saw Chinese characters and were fascinated by them.
  • They like Chinese food.
  • They like Chinese people (this is usually from guys who like Chinese girls…)

Now, I certainly don’t have anything against Chinese characters, food or people, but none of those are the reasons I chose to study Chinese. The actual, honest reason is: ‘China’ was the featured article on Wikipedia on the day I was choosing university courses to apply to. No, seriously.

Previously I’d been looking at Political Science or Computer Science, but those got vetoed by the people around me as the courses would be “full of nerds”. I got online to try to think of some other possibilities, and there was the China article. We’d studied a tiny bit of Chinese history in secondary school, so I thought “yeah that could be good”.

In the UK students usually apply to five universities, which will hopefully give offers of required grades. The student can then choose a preferred and an insurance option (i.e. a high and a low offer). I ended up applying for various combinations of Chinese, Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence.

Ending up at Cambridge

My grades were pretty good in sixth form (what British people call college, when you’re 17 - 18), so I was prompted to apply to ‘Oxbridge’. As is typical for me, I procrastinated on this, until my mum pointed out that the only open day left at either university was Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Off I went.

At the open day I bumped into Boping Yuan, the head of the Chinese faculty at Cambridge. Dr Yuan is also Director of Studies for Chinese at Churchill College, and recommended that I apply there. I did, was interviewed by Dr Yuan, got accepted, and started first year in 2009. Woohoo!

Since then I’ve been studying Chinese full time (my course is actually called ‘East Asian Studies’). There wasn’t any particular reason behind me choosing Chinese, and the path was often accidental, but here I am!

Why did you start learning Chinese? If you don’t learn Chinese, then why not? :-P

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