UK students cross cultures at Chinese summer camp

Updated: 2010-08-04 09:47
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BEIJING - Before flying to Beijing, 15-year-old Fiona Logan's impression of China was a "secretive country".

She can recall little of her childhood experiences in Beijing with her parents, who worked here for two years in the late 1990s.

"It is totally different from the city my parents told me about. I can sense the difference."

Fiona is among the 54 teenagers from 22 Scottish secondary schools selected for an 18-day summer camp in China.

Overcoming the initial culture shock, they have been coming to grips with many aspects of China -- the highlight for them being tai chi.

"We provide culture classes for students to glimpse Chinese arts, such as paper cutting, calligraphy, painting and pottery," said camp teacher Li Mengjun.

The "Chinese Bridge Summer Camp for UK Students" is sponsored by Hanban, the executive body of the Chinese Language Council International, in cooperation with the British Council and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust for UK students.

Thousands of foreign school students have passed through the camps since they began in 2006.

The demand to study Chinese language and culture in foreign countries had been so strong in recent years the country was obliged to throw its millennia-old culture to the world, said Xu Lin, director of Hanban.

However, aspects of modern Chinese life, such as crossing the road, are proving more challenging.

"The cars dash along the streets. Even if the green light is on, I have to run before it flashes back to red," says Emily Grant said. "I mean, does anybody die that way?"

The students stay at a three-star hotel at Beijing Foreign Studies University. They have a two-hour Mandarin class in the morning and a two-hour culture class in the afternoon.

On their first Mandarin class, they all received new names in Chinese.

"My name is Scott, and it means a man from Scotland -- such a boring name," says 16-year-old Scott Melville. "Ms. Li named me Wei Lai, and she said it sounds like 'future' in Chinese. That's cool."

On weekends, they can wander around Beijing and talk with real Beijingers. At the city's famous Silk Market, their Chinese teachers taught them how to bargain.

"That was real fun," Scott says, recalling a "quite scary-looking seller" at a souvenir shop.

"If she refuses your offer, just pretend to walk away. When she screams 'Come back' behind your back, you know you've won," he says.

Scott's "trophies" include 20 sets of chopsticks for 130 yuan (19 U.S. dollars) bought for his friends and family.

As the camp comes to an end, Fiona has been impressed by Beijing's modernity -- such as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games buildings -- and by its sense of tradition after watching elderly people exercise at the Temple of Heaven in the early morning.

She says she will come again, "my parents and I will visit Beijing this Christmas."