Alix Honore from Commonwealth of Dominica is now studying in China. The island country now sends 15 students every year to China. [China Daily]
When Alix Honore stepped off the plane in Beijing she was completely overwhelmed, not so much by the 20-hour flight, the transfer and stop off, or the idea that she, at 19, was about to embrace a culture and education system so different from her own, but more so by the size of the airport.
But Honore arrived in 2005. Beijing International Airport's Terminal 3, like the Bird's Nest, was just a blue print and Athens rather than Beijing was still considered the Olympic city. Things have changed dramatically.
Honore comes from the Commonwealth of Dominica. It is an island in the Caribbean and has one of the smallest populations in the world. It is an island that often lives in the shadow of its namesake, The Dominican Republic, so much so that "not to be confused with the Dominican Republic" reads high on its encyclopedic definition.
Honore often finds herself explaining to her classmates where her island home is situated. They simply haven't heard of it before.
"I am used to it I know that Dominica is really small. In Dominica it would take 20 minutes to walk around our entire airport." the accounting student says.
Honore is part of a growing group of students from small nations on educational cross-governmental initiatives, that pay for everything from tuition fees and accommodation to help develop relations between the nations.
Since 2004, Dominica has fostered a growing relationship with China. Dominicans studying in China, grew up in the orbit of the United States' influence while looking across the pond to its former colonial master, Great Britain.
They now look at China as the new land of opportunity.
The island now sends 15 students to China every year. In 2007, Dominica's minister of foreign affairs said ties with China were the fastest growing cordial relationship the nation had with any country since it attained independence on Nov 3, 1978.
Honore herself is not too sure what the nations have in common.
One nation is home to a fifth of humanity and the other's 70,000 population would fit easily into the Bird's Nest stadium.
China's influence exceeds its own borders, while Dominica has little impact on global affairs. It also lacks the natural resources, which makes African-Sino ties so appealing.
"China and Dominica are different on every level," the 23-year-old who grew up in Vieille Case in the north west of the island says.
"I put off coming here for a year because I was scared that my parents didn't want me to go."
"I thought there would be so many people in China that it may be hard to move," she says. I had an idea that people would still be wearing traditional clothes."
There is an abundance of differences in terms of culture and society between the two nations.
But there are also some similarities. "Some places in China feel like home," Honore says. She is fond of the verdant environment and water in Qingdao and says that the level of development in some areas of China does remind her of Dominica.
During the Olympics, Honore worked as one of the few foreign volunteers helping tourists around the city and translating between Chinese and English.
"There was a running joke where my colleagues would make me speak Chinese to people to surprise them," she says.
"Chinese people were scared that I couldn't speak Chinese. They would ask a security guard instead but they would not ask me."
"Dominicans started to come to China after they set up the Chinese embassy in 2004. Now every year, 15 come to China from Dominica," she says.
"They don't only get to learn Chinese but also get to learn about the Chinese way of life."
The student who studies accounting in Chinese at the university of international business and economics now boasts a near fluent level of Chinese.
She has won numerous awards and scholarships for her academic achievements and for someone who claims to be modest, has also somehow found her way onto the front page of her school's brochure for prospective students.
For all the differences Honore says her knack for communicating has allowed her to adapt.
Even before she had the language skills she would watch Chinese TV and laugh at jokes that she didn't quite understand.
"I need more international experience," says Honore, who speaks Spanish, broken English and a French oral language known as patois in Dominica. Next year she hopes to use her language skills in an internship at a multinational company in China.
"Dominica is sending more people to China. Slowly they are going outside of Beijing. I meet people at home who want to come here. I say if they want to come they have to be prepared to work hard," she says.