Student profile: Mihai Velciu
Queen Mary Business Management student Mihai Velciu recently took part in the Queen Mary Confucius Institute China Summer Camp, spending two months in Shanghai learning Mandarin Chinese and exploring all that China has to offer. He shares with us some of the exciting things he got up to while he was out there, as well as insights into everyday life in China, why he's fallen in love with travelling, and how you can gain international experience too!
How did you find out about the China summer camp?
I actually didn’t find out about the summer camp that I ended up going on until about six weeks before leaving for China. Originally, the Confucius Institute at Queen Mary had an offer to attend a summer school in Chengdu in central China for two weeks, but six weeks before leaving for Chengdu they sent us an email saying that they’d partnered with a university in Shanghai and were offering a two-month summer school there too. It was pretty sudden, but Shanghai is a much bigger city, and I was really interested in going for the two months.
So what kind of things did you do on the trip? Was it educational, were there cultural activities?
The main purpose of the summer school was to learn Mandarin Chinese, but we also took part in cultural activities. Generally, we had four hours of Mandarin lessons every day, Monday to Friday, and we would do an extra two hours of calligraphy, history, or culture on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I did learn a lot, but there were so many distractions and there was so much to explore, I feel that maybe the best development opportunities were outside of the classroom!
Did you get to travel to other parts of China as part of the trip?
We used to go out in Shanghai all the time, but the summer school also organised trips to Wuzhen, Suzhou and Hangzhou, which are three of the best cities to visit around Shanghai. A few of us from the summer school visited Beijing together as well, just before returning to London. I’d had friends who had visited earlier in the summer and when I saw their pictures I was really jealous, so I ended up visiting too.
What was your everyday life like in Shanghai? Did you struggle with the language?
It wasn’t that difficult because we were in Shanghai, which is a major city, and because of our classes, we could recognise a lot of the things we’d learnt in the classroom on trains or buses. We’d also use a lot of our Chinese skills in the market, negotiating to buy things or gifts to take back home.
We got a lot of attention, as it’s not often that people in Shanghai see people from other countries walking around the city. I think they were a lot more friendly and curious overall. Many people asked to take photos of me and my friends, and stopped to talk to us.
What would you say are the main benefits you got from this experience?
Before enrolling in this programme I thought that learning Chinese was basically impossible, but by the end of the summer school I knew that it was achievable. I still take regular classes at the Confucius Institute, two years later: I’m at HSK3 now, which is around intermediate level, but my goal is to be fluent in Chinese.
Recently, because of the summer school and Confucius Institute, I’ve been considering pursuing a career or a masters degree in China. The Chinese government offers good scholarships for international students to study in China. I actually have a friend who did the summer school and is now studying a masters there.
Did you like the food while you were there?
Yes! I learnt to cook while I was there too. Before I went to China I didn’t know how to cook, but the first dish I ever learnt how to cook is hong shao rou, Shanghai-style braised pork belly! So the first thing I ever cooked was typical Chinese food. I still don’t know how to cook anything else, but I loved that dish so much that I knew I had to learn how to make it.
Why do you think it’s important that people look for these opportunities to go abroad and experience a different culture?
I think that experiencing different cultures opens your mind. If you only experience one culture, you can only think in one way, so it’s good for cultural awareness. I think this experience has helped me to empathise and work with people from other cultures better.
This experience made such an impression on me that one of my classmates and I founded the Queen Mary Travel Society immediately after returning from the summer school. We wanted to explore even more cultures, and share these opportunities with our fellow students as well. We do trips inside London, within the UK, and even further afield – to Barcelona, for example.
You mentioned that you’re enrolled in Chinese classes at the Confucius Institute – have you gotten involved in any of their other cultural offerings at all?
Before going on the summer school I wasn’t really aware of the Confucius Institute, but since coming back from China I haven’t really missed any of their events: I’ve been to tea ceremonies, Chinese painting and calligraphy lessons, and movie nights since then.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to people who are considering something like this?
I think just taking a chance and having the courage to do something like this is really important, because I was completely terrified to go. Even on the train to the airport, with my ticket in my hand, I was considering going back home. But I don’t regret it. As soon as I got there I knew it was the right decision.
Find out more and register for the Confucius Institute China Summer Camp 2018, taking place in Shanghai from Monday 16 to Sunday 29 July.
You can hear first-hand from more students who attended previous summer camps with the Queen Mary Confucius Institute by visiting the China Summer Camp student blog or watching the China Summer Camp 2017 video.
The application deadline is Friday 23 March.