Two sides of one diploma

Confucius said, “You should learn as if you were short of knowledge.” An old Slavic wisdom repeats the eastern thinker’s words, “The root of knowledge is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” People knew the value of education. Scientists were honored people, they had the greatest respect. Few things have changed since those times: knowledge is still valuable. Probably, today there is less respect to the men with diplomas: it is par for the course to graduate from a university. You can study not only in your Motherland: many higher educational establishments in the world are ready to host students from abroad
Confucius said, “You should learn as if you were short of knowledge.” An old Slavic wisdom repeats the eastern thinker’s words, “The root of knowledge is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” People knew the value of education. Scientists were honored people, they had the greatest respect. Few things have changed since those times: knowledge is still valuable. Probably, today there is less respect to the men with diplomas: it is par for the course to graduate from a university. You can study not only in your Motherland: many higher educational establishments in the world are ready to host students from abroad.

For example, I entered Chongqing University in China. This year I study the language, next year I will study in magistracy, and then I will attend postgraduate studies if I have enough forces and patience. I hope I have enough. If I start to give up I will recollect Confucius and Slavic people. Besides, I have a wonderful example — a Chinese aspirant Yang Zhi who defended his doctoral dissertation in Belarus. I don’t think that it was easier for him than for me. However, he will tell everything himself. I will complete his story with my impressions and thoughts.

“Yang Zhi, to your mind, what are the advantages of studying abroad?”

“Firstly, this is a unique possibility to become acquainted with a different culture. Our case was interesting: I learned new things about western traditions, and you — about eastern traditions. You can read about other countries in newspapers, watch TV-programs, listen to the stories of friends who visited it. But still you will learn much more when you visit the country yourself. Besides, education abroad allows supplementing the language “piggy-bank.” Of course, you can learn languages at home. Some people manage it: the First Secretary of Education and Culture of the Embassy of China to Belarus Bei Wen Li learned Russian at the University of his native Shanghai City. One could envy his skills, and now he speaks excellent. There are few such skilled people. Agree that it is better to learn languages among foreigners. Especially such difficult languages as Russian and Chinese.”

Undoubtedly. I would like to add that no matter how hard it is to leave home it is still very useful. Young people, being far from their parents, grow up quicker and learn to take decisions independently. It is not only university professors who give lessons, but life itself. Students gain experience. Besides, Yang Zhi also underwent a language course at the university.

“Students of which nationalities studied with you?”

“There were Iranians, Syrians, Moroccans among my groupmates.”

Students from the USA, Sweden, Egypt, Syria, Thailand and the Philippines grasp Chinese with me… This is an example of real internationalism as well as in the case with Yang Zhi. Besides, after graduation from the preparatory course he entered the faculty of journalism of Belarusian State University. I also studied there. Having obtained Master’s degree, my acquaintance returned to his native Luoyang town in Henan province. However, he came to Belarus to begin scientific work.

“Tell me, please, is there any difference between Belarusian and Chinese educational systems?”

“Of course, there are differences. Especially in the methods of knowledge examination. As a rule, Chinese students pass exams in written: they simultaneously answer the same questions. They seldom draw question cards and talk to a lecturer face-to-face.”

I turned out to be lucky: during my first session I passed an oral exam. It was colloquial Chinese. However, it differed from the exams I used to have in Belarusian State University (BSU). It was a computer I had to communicate with. As Yang Zhi said, the tasks were the same: to read words, a fragment from a text observing all tones (there are four tones in Chinese), and to make up a dialogue. When the time for preparation was out, students put on earphones with microphones, turned on recording devices and started answering. Performing the first tasks, I involuntarily listened to the words of my groupmates. I couldn’t concentrate because of the stop watch measuring time of the “communication” with the computer… On the whole, this examination form made me nervous. I thought that it is better to answer by turns to a teacher (he, in contrast to the monitor screen, can smile and cheer up if a student makes a pause). I was sure then that I could hardly obtain a high mark. I was mistaken: either a “discount” was made for us (after all in other countries the examination procedure differs from that one of China) or I underestimated myself. Having listened to my record, the teacher found a verdict: 91 points out of 100.

“What do you find the most surprising about Belarus?”

“Kiosks. They were at every step. This is very convenient: you don’t have to queue in a shop to buy some trifle. Chocolate was sold there. Many sorts of chocolate. I like it very much.”

When I came to China I was surprised that you can bargain almost everywhere. Sellers are ready to make a discount at the rate of fifty per cent, not five-ten as in Belarus. Teachers told us, foreign students, how to bargain right at the classes. We learned useful phrases and then practiced acting out. We sold and bought everything: from textbooks and pencils to class blackboards. It is important to know what to say, how to behave, and success will be guaranteed. I took over a special behavior from my Chinese acquaintance Jian Yi. A sweet and modest girl changed in front of my very eyes when started to bargain: she screamed and stamped… Will I manage to do the same? I don’t think so. I am too calm for such an emotional outburst. Well, I will peacefully press my point, telling, “If you make a discount for me I will come to you again and recommend your shop to all my friends.” Let’s agree that it is a good variant.
“Yang Zhi, how did Belarus accept you?”

“I came to Minsk at the end of 1994. There were few Chinese and other foreigners here. People looked narrowly at them in transport, turned around in the streets… On the one hand, such attention was pleasant, but on the other hand — a little bit tiresome. I think it was the same in your case.”

I can’t but agree with it. Not many foreigners live in Chongqing if compared to Beijing. Of course, we draw interest of local residents: they often come, ask where we are from, what we do; they even ask to make photo with us. In general, Chongqing residents are very friendly.

“I can tell the same about Minsk citizens. They are responsive and well-wishing people.”

“What was the most difficult to get used to?”

“Well, I guess it was food. I came to Belarus right after school, I couldn’t cook myself. I had to search for places of public catering. I didn’t like food in a canteen. Now I like Belarusian cuisine, because I got used to it, but then… There is no point in pretending otherwise, but I even went to McDonald’s when it was opened. Then instant noodles appeared on sale and I heaved a sigh of relief.”

Really, Chinese are big noodles amateurs. Noodles are cooked within a few minutes. Long shop shelves are occupied with it. I admit that there is a choice for any taste.

You can also find products customary for Belarusians in Chongqing.
However, cheese is rare here. As a rule, this dairy product is imported here. That is why the price is high. I also noted that foreigners buy it. I decided to ask Jian why Chongqing residents don’t like cheese. It turned out to be that they don’t like the taste. It is natural: low demand results in low supply.

Jian studies the Russian language in Sichuan International Studies University. This girl became a real present for me and vice versa: I can practice Chinese language with her, and she — Russian with me. We spend a lot of time together. We visited an exhibition of Terra-cotta army: models and photos of warriors, their horses and weapon were brought to Chongqing. We also went to Dazu caves where there are ten thousand Buddha’s stone sculptures. We made pelmeni (as it turned out, the favorite dish of many Belarusians is of Chinese origin). We also visited the tea ceremony. Whatever you may say, new friends mean new impressions.

“Yang Zhi, do you have such friends in Belarus? How do they spend spare time?”

“Of course, I have friends. My roommate became my good friend. We celebrated New Year together and now we visit each other regularly. I also have friends with whom I hold picnics, go to the Lake Naroch in summer: we rent a house and rest from city bustle. We visited many Belarusian towns: Nesvizh which was chosen the residency of the famous princely clan of the Radzivills, Polotsk, the Motherland of East Slavic first printer and enlightener Francisco Skorina, we saw Brest fortress where soldiers fearlessly fought during the first days of the Great Patriotic War. We also admired the nature in the “Belovezhskaya Puscha” reserve… Honestly speaking, I can’t imagine my life without the people I spend time with.”

“Belarus and China repaired diplomatic relations in 1992. Friendship of the two states has been developing in front of your eyes. Do you think they succeeded?”

“Beyond doubts. There is a saying “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Belarus supported China after the earthquake in Sichuan province: it was one of the first countries to send humanitarian aid to the victims.

Generally, educational sphere is closer to me. That is why I am going to mention success in this sphere. Many student exchange programs function today: both states grant scholarships for free tuition for talented young people. Confucius Institute has been recently opened in Minsk. Chinese language is taught at schools, many language courses appeared. The number of Chinese students is constantly growing at our faculty: this year there are sixty students, next year a serious increment is expected — almost one hundred people. And I have recollected just a couple of facts.”

I want to tell you about friendship manifestations I saw with my own eyes within one week of my holidays in Minsk. From the start, the ambassador of China to Belarus Lu Guicheng donated a collection of books to the National Library. These were the books on Chinese history, art, politics, and economy. I liked the series about Chinese towns. I found a book about Chongqing there. I envied myself turning the leaves of the book: I was lucky to study and live in such a beautiful town, rich in history and culture. I visited a Chinese stand at the XVIth Minsk book exhibition-fair. In spite of its size, it attracted many visitors by well-matched books.

Abundance of Chinese literature in Minsk and interest of readers to it convinced me that citizens of China and Belarus strain after each other. Some people want to tell about themselves, some — listen or read attentively. It just the way it should be between friends: to learn something new about each other means to become closer.

“Yang Zhi, how did Belarus change in comparison with the nineties?”

“It became stronger. Especially, in terms of economy. Life became stable, the living standard was increased. Minsk smartens; many buildings are being built, for example, the National Library in the form of a diamond. Faculty of journalism moved to a big modern building last year. I am glad that the process of construction continues: we are impatiently waiting for the opening of the student campus.”

Five months, which I spent in China, are not enough to judge about changes. I can only say that entering Chinese supermarkets and seeing goods flow, I can’t imagine that this country once suffered from food shortage. Policy of reforms and openness took its part: this problem fell into oblivion. As for the middle class, it is real in China. The middle class is getting a firm stand on their own feet.

“What does Belarus mean for you today?”

“Frankly speaking, Belarus is my second Motherland. I am happy that my studentship was spent here. Probably, I will stay in Belarus and work here. I haven’t decided yet, but I am thinking about it seriously. What does China mean for you?”

“It is early to call it my second Motherland. I know for sure that it is always difficult in the beginning. I am gradually getting used to people and places. Now, after several weeks of holidays, I miss Chongqing. I am glad that I will
return there.”

Olga Korney
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