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Classroom roots in China
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-21 08:44

Henry Mi is an undergraduate at the Guangzhou Jinan University.

He is a food science major and since starting at the university he has put together a three-member band called "Screwdriver."

They perform songs by the British 1960s band, the Beatles.

This American-born Chinese quickly became familiar with campus life, thanks to his earlier experiences of spending his high school years in China.

"I attended high school in Qingdao, a coastal city in East China's Shandong Province," Mi told China Daily.

The three years of study helped Mi get used to Chinese life and culture.

He learnt how to read and write Chinese.

Mi, in his 20s, is bi-lingual and is considered something of an "expert" among his fellow students.

Mi's family moved back to China several years ago, to start a business.

The other members of "Screwdriver" are from Thailand and Malaysia, and are in the same year as Mi.

Band member Dai Yiyong from Malaysia said: "I can understand Mandarin, Cantonese, the Fujian dialect and also Hakka dialect," he said.

Unlike Mi and Dai, Erica Hong has met with more "culture shocks" over the past year in Guangzhou.

But the recent Mid-Autumn Festival helped the 24-year-old overseas Chinese, from Vancouver in Canada, get over the "strange-looking" food such as chufa, taro and water caltrop.

"It was the first time that I had seen chufa and taro in my life and I had no idea at all what they would taste like," she said. "And it had been over 10 years since I've eaten water caltrop."

Hong moved to Canada from Taiwan 10 years ago with her family.

She said during her stay in the mainland she had not expected to meet so many people who shared the same cultural and family backgrounds as her, such as Mi and Dai. This gave her warmth and confidence about living and studying without her family.

"I like Chinese cultural relics and history very much and to some degree, I was quite familiar with them through watching movies and the media. But I never had the chance to see it all for myself," Hong told China Daily, referring to her motivation for returning to study in China.

Having acquired a bachelor's degree in biotechnology in Canada, Hong is now pursuing her second bachelor, this time in clinical medicine, from the Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University.

Hong made up her mind to come back to study and she says: "My father created opportunities to help me achieve my ambitions."

After moving back in September, which was her first time living alone, Hong got daily phone calls from her parents in Vancouver and her grandmother in Taiwan.

They treat her like any Chinese parents whose children are studying overseas. However, the big difference is that no one on the street considers Hong a foreigner due to her appearance.

And having an understanding of some, but not all, local culture injects her with excitement.

"I know a bit about the Mid-Autumn Festival as we (Hong's family) also gather together to celebrate it," Hong said.

However, the Canadian celebrations - which usually involve barbecues - are far removed from the way the festival is enjoyed in China.

The Guangzhou weather is still taking some time for her to get used to, says Hong, and she finds it hard to understand why people can smoke almost anywhere in China.

But one of the biggest problems she faced was within the university itself, in attempting to get exempted from several subjects that overlapped with her Canadian degree.

"Biotechnology and clinical medicine share some courses," said Hong, adding that she thought it was a waste of time and effort to have to do them again.

Despite the difficulty, Hong continues to enjoy her studies.

With China's economy continuing to grow, more overseas families want to send their children back to China for higher education, especially in the traditional Chinese medicine field.

As Hong says, the West is becoming more open to herbal therapy.

Traditional Chinese medicine is tipped to become more closely associated with global medical circles.

Guangzhou alone has about 5,000 overseas students, including more than 1,000 of Chinese origin, said Yang Shengqi, an official with Guangdong Overseas Chinese Office.

In Hong's class, there are students from Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, the United States, Canada, Viet Nam and South America.

Hong hopes to join various university sporting clubs. She already takes part in kung fu classes.

"I'm eager to gain the experiences that come with living alone and overcoming difficulties by myself," she says.

"Otherwise, how can I know my true potential?"

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