Sharing one dream with my Chinese study buddy

09:17, November 11, 2010      

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Our lives are as antipodean as our hometowns, but Xue Chen and I had at least one thing in common - we were nervous. Our exams were approaching.

Since the Sichuan earthquake crumpled his school into snarls of rod and nuggets of concrete, the teenager had been cramming for the National College Entrance Exam (gaokao), first in tents and then in makeshift classrooms. Classes in his remote village in Pingwu county ran until long after nightfall had inked out the surrounding mountains.

Xue's gaokao score, including that of the vital English section, would be pivotal in determining the course of his future education and whether he and his classmates live in relative prosperity or hardship.

I had been studying for the National Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) in the comfort of my Beijing apartment, at my own pace. When I studied into the hours after the setting sun had hit the switch that turns on the glittering skyscraper's lights, it was because I felt like it.

Although I am surrounded by Chinese people every day, I could easily continue living well in the country without the certification or even the language skills needed to earn it.

Xue, however, had only met one foreigner one time but would be less likely to live well in China if he didn't get a high gaokao English score or have the language skills needed to earn it.

Although we were both studying for tests in each other's languages, our preparations' surroundings, resources and reasons could hardly have been more different.

It was meeting Xue when I visited his hometown - or, at that point, what was left of it - about six months after the quake that inspired me to seriously pursue the HSK certification - or, more precisely, the proficiency it requires.

The boy's enthusiasm for learning English spilled out of the classroom and onto the playground. He was a sight to behold on the island of white corrugated-metal classrooms and the sea of rubble beyond, spending breaks studying English while his classmates tossed basketballs or skipped rope.

That image stuck with me when I returned to Beijing, about a thousand kilometers away but a whole world apart. Thinking of Xue, I picked up a long-neglected HSK textbook from my bookshelf and opened it to the first page.

Whenever I felt frustrated at the sluggish progress of my Chinese, was exhausted from work or just felt lazy - the times I'd wanted to slack off, or even give up - I would think of Xue and my resolve was replenished.

As our respective exam days approached, we exchanged a flurry of SMSs. The last message my study buddy sent before my test reads: "Let us fight for our dreams, meanwhile, enjoy our life to the fullest! We cry, we smile, but we have dreams in our life, dreams make us become the luckiest person. My good friend, try ur best! Good luck on your exam!"

Armed with Xue's best wishes and inspiration, I passed the HSK Level 3.

A few days after my results came back, so did Xue's gaokao scores. He sent me an SMS reading, "I am very happy that get 130 points in English this time (the highest in my school : ) i find your chinese has made much progress ! I learn english, u learn chinese, we both go on :) to create a brighter future! Come one !!!!!!!"

Xue's scores got him into Hainan University, where he now majors in English.

The young man, who had never left Pingwu before graduation, hopes to become a tour guide so he can travel to and experience more of the outside world.

While Xue is studying my mother tongue at university, I will be studying his at home until I hopefully pass the HSK Level 6 (the top level). Then, I can really travel through and truly experience more of China.

By Erik Nilsson Source: China Daily


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