Life, part 2: Six months of Chinese studies

As I’m writing this it’s hard to imagine six months have passed already since I first walked into a Chinese class at Linköping University. It feels like an eternity has passed since I first decided to study the language, about a year ago, and applied for the program.

I was nightmarishly late for my very first class. I had met with my future classmates previously, but for my very first actual lesson I was late. I can’t recall the circumstances, but I remember the panic when I finally found the classroom (U4, I believe) and realised the door was closed – the class had already begun. I was perhaps three or four minutes late, in spite of having told myself for weeks that I had to be there at least ten minutes before the scheduled time. I peeked in through the round glass in the door, and indeed my class was seated, and by the blackboard stood two gentlemen, one of them talking. As I walk in, timidly seating myself trying not to disrupt, I realise the one talking (who would later turn out to be Olle Linge, who’s website on studying Chinese – Hacking Chinese – I now follow in awe) is speaking in Chinese.

In hindsight, I don’t remember a word of what he said, having barely heard a word of Chinese prior to the lesson. While I understand that he probably talked rather slowly, it all sounded like a complete mess of racing words. Again, I was close to a complete panic attack.

But it all turned out for the better before crashing down. After introducing themselves on Chinese, our temporary teachers Olle and Gustaf started talking in Swedish about what we were to expect from the program we were about to take. Other than that, I remember absolutely nothing of our first lesson. Absolutely nothing.

I have learned a lot in six months, not only about the Chinese language, culture and history, but about studying and (sorry for sounding pretentious) about life. I have become much more disciplined in my everyday life, with many 10-hour study sessions and early morning wake-ups. I have learned to read several hundred pages of text in a day, and I have learned to take proper notes and reading much more effectively. I have had great help from my classmates, from my teachers (Chunyang Wang, Mats Andersson, Lili Tunek), from Olle’s website which I have already mentioned, and from the Anki software. I have everyone to thank, even do I do think I have worked a great deal myself. Many interests, including my novel ”The Tempest”, the album ”As Autumn Leaves Decay” and several website projects have been suffering. I do think it’s ultimately worth it though.

In the early days of my studying, and even more so in the months leading up to it, I was constantly battling inner demons. When first discussing whether to pursue this international program, or a mere masters program in physical engineering, my brother (who took the non-international masters program three years prior) told me of those he knew who took the international class. He talked about complete nerds who didn’t have a life outside Japan or China, to whom this was their entire life. This almost had me decide not to go with the program after all. I had never tried learning Chinese before the autumn of 2011, and I had never been particularly interested in Chinese culture. How could I focus so heavily on a language and a culture that wasn’t in my interest sphere to begin with?

I ultimately decided to go with my gut and apply for the program anyway. I had decided that if I were to fail completely, I could just quit and go for the other program again. I would have wasted time, but at least I would have tried. One scene kept repeating in my head: me in five or ten or fifteen years, meeting some people wherever, discussing what happened in our lives, what we did. What we learned. I couldn’t help imagining one or several of them fluently speaking a foreign language, while I stood at the sideline, cursing my 19-year-old self for not choosing that international program five, ten or fifteen years prior. And a second scene kept playing in my head, with me reading about the Chinese space programs, those lucky bastards who would be the first to step on Mars… and me standing on the sidelines, not understand a word. So I did it. I went for it and tried.

In hindsight, I don’t remember how I became a China geek. I am now completely enthralled with Chinese history, culture, politics and language. I spend the most part of my time either studying, or reading just for the fun of it. I am completely devoured by my current project, an article on the development of the social phenomenon of guanxi in the reform era, a project of social sciences which I thought I’d never be interested in. I could never stand studying what I study if I didn’t have the interest in it, and yet I have only had it for a few months. I am nowhere near giving up, and I am getting pretty good grades too. And above all, it’s fun as hell.

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