Te Rangitaki a Te Ranui
Eat noodles, find husband…
Nā Ranui Ellison-Collins
Within a few days of writing this, I will be in Shanghai, the modern Chinese city that is home to more than 24 million people. The city has about 35 universities, with studies ranging across almost every discipline imaginable. I will be attending Fudan University, ranked in the top 10 of all Chinese institutions. Fudan has four campuses and more than 31,000 students.
To put this into perspective, I come from Dunedin, a city of around 200,000 people and one university. The University of Otago is about one-fifth of the size of Fudan in population, and half the size in campus area. China will be a bit of a change compared to where I have spent my past three years studying, to say the least.
This February, Liam Stoneley (Waihōpai) and I will be studying Chinese Language at Fudan, an opportunity made possible through the Ngāi Tahu Agria-Hōaka Scholarship. The scholarship covers our university fees, flights, accommodation, and travel for the duration of our studies. The aim is to become proficient in Mandarin while making the most of opportunities that may arise throughout our time in China.
I am often asked what I expect from this experience. During Christmas this became a hot topic of conversation, and I think I can now say I have heard almost every single possibility, from finding a husband to securing a career in international business. However my expectations are a lot simpler – I just wish to learn the language.
Knowing how to communicate in another language is similar to holding a key that opens the door to a new level of understanding.
My Chinese proficiency is minimal, almost non-existent; but I am a strong believer in the benefits of full immersion. I simply cannot think of a better environment to be in when first picking up a new language.
I was recently told to consider leaving the university environment without a map or a watch, and to force myself to use the language, to engage. This piece of advice may have been based on experiences before cell phones became an extension of our hand, but nevertheless the principle is key: to get out and about and test my abilities.
Much like any other tourist in a new place, I want to travel. I am eager to test the cuisine, trial the night-life, and to check out the markets. I have plans to visit key landmarks like temples, the Great Wall and cities outside Shanghai. I was told that the further north you travel, the more “boil up-like” the food becomes, and the further south you travel, the spicier it gets. Whether this is true or not, it is an example of one small thing I wish to experience first-hand. The summer holiday break in the middle of the year will be the first major opportunity to put some of these plans into action. Liam and I will have just over one month to explore.
I guess from this comes a second expectation: to pick up on cultural norms and business practices. Mandarin is a language of international importance, and with my studies focused on economics, indigenous development, and management it will be a huge asset. I have always been interested in the effect of culture on economic activity, and as Shanghai is a primary hub for China, I cannot think of a better place to explore. I feel New Zealand could learn a lot about the value of culture within business, because in many ways we undervalue the potential we have right at our doorstep.
This is where my language studies come into play. Knowing how to communicate in another language is similar to holding a key that opens the door to a new level of understanding. But for me, I guess I’ll be opening that door a small amount as I go. The more I can pick up in class, the more access I will have to the bigger picture.
Ranui Ellison-Collins (Ngāi Tahu- Ōtākou) is a recipient of an Agria-Hōaka scholarship and will spend the next 12 months in Shanghai learning Mandarin.