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A bridge over linguistic waters

(China Daily)

10:20, August 11, 2011

The two-day culture tour of Hunan province provided this year's "Chinese Bridge" contestants with plenty to see. (Photo: China Daily)

BEIJING, Aug. 9 (Xinhuanet) -- For many youngsters the "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students is the beginning of a love affair with China.

This year's annual contest, the 10th, featured 120 contestants from 70 countries and was held in Changsha, Hunan province. It ended on Monday.

Since 2002, more than 800 college students from overseas have come to China for the final, organized by China's National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Second Language, or Hanban.

It awards contestants with the opportunity to study in China. Usually, first-prize winners are awarded with a full scholarship for a higher education course in China.

For the first time, 22 previous contestants came to Hunan to share their experience with this year's contestants.

It has been 10 years since 30-year-old Tan Yee Ning from Malaysia won the first Chinese Bridge contest.

Back then, Tan was a sophomore majoring in Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. Though she started learning Chinese in middle school, she had never visited the country before the final.

"The competition was quite simple," she says, "What stood out most was my feelings about China when I arrived in Beijing. The city had so many bicycles!"

That short stay in the capital city captivated the 21-year-old and her curiosity about China grew. Her previous knowledge about China was limited to books and TV.

Her first prize in the first Chinese Bridge competition gained her a scholarship for a master's degree in journalism at Fudan University in 2004.

"My life went in a new direction after that contest," she recalls, "Even today, I can't imagine how my life would have turned out if I had not participated in Chinese Bridge.

"I might have just found a job in Singapore after graduation. I wouldn't have even thought about living in China unless I had competed."

Instead, she stayed in Shanghai and is currently working in the security consultancy field for a British company based in Beijing, taking charge of its business in China. Almost all her clients are from China.

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