Five years have gone by since the day when I scribbled my first Chinese character and, after all this time, I still get asked the same question: why China? I usually like to take people by surprise replying: "for the food, of course, it is delicious!" But as I prepare to move to Beijing, I want to finally assert to this question a more serious answer.
If I had to recall when my passion for the far East started, I would say that it is something I was born with. As a little girl, I have always dreamt of travelling through the land of dragons and emperors. I was enchanted by stories of concubines and warriors, captured by the Chinese finest pieces of art. My passion didn't fade as I grew up, so that when I entered university I decided to major in Chinese language and culture. For many of my colleagues, studying Chinese was a way to take advantage of the economic growth of Asia, but it was very different for me. Every new character I learned was appeasing my deep hunger and curiosity for that world, so different from ours and yet so magical before my eyes. Finally, in September 2016 I flew to China for the first time to spend one semester studying in Beijing. Little did I know that there was a lot more for me to fall in love with.
The months I spent in Beijing were truly enlightening for my education and personal growth. While the beauties and the exotic culture were as fascinating as I thought, there were several aspects of modern China that astonished me and truly opened my mind. The first one is indeed multiculturalism. In Europe, we consider ourselves to be totally comfortable with the concept of diversity. The reality, I believe, is way more complex. If you have ever experienced the multicultural environment of Europe, you have probably noticed that most of your peers share your same religion, costumes and social status, even if under the flag of a different passport. We claim to accept diversity, but do we? Sadly, I come from a country where multiculturalism is mostly seen as a threat rather than a benefit. We welcome foreigners as long as they are similar to us and share our same set of values.
Nonetheless, living in China has thought me that the spectrum of cultures and beliefs is much wider than I expected. The people around me were the most colorful, diverse and peculiar group one could imagine. Our dietary habits were all different, and so were our religions. We didn't speak the same language and some of us didn't even know English. Cultural backgrounds were so varying that sometimes understanding each other became hard. Eventually, however, heterogeneity was the best feature of our group. If every dinner table is a melting pot of cultures, people truly forget about differences and embrace the sharpest diversity as a normal part ofdaily life. Life in China enabled me to thrive in an authentic multicultural environment and gifted me with amazing people from the most remote countries in the world.
This vibrant environment, however, was not merely the cause of multiculturalism by itself. In fact, since China is emerging as a global power and as the leader of the developing countries, it is also becoming one of the most relevant cultural hubs of the globe. Every year, scholars and researchers from all over the world gather in Beijing, bringing their ideas and shaping the debate on the global challenges. At the same time, some of the brightest students in the world apply to Chinese universities creating a hub of likeminded and inspiring people. The dynamic cultural scene, as well as the economic and political rise, make Beijing one of the poles of the world. Having the opportunity to experience life in China is one of the greatest benefits for those who want to understand the global scenario of the twenty-first century.
Soon after my return to Europe, I found out about the existence of the Yenching Academy of Peking University, a program that reflected all those aspects of China that I described above. Luckily, next semester I will have the honor to join the Yenching Academy as a member of the fifth cohort. I am looking forward to meeting the international community of students and the prominent members of the faculty.
I am sure that next two years will provide us with many occasions for discussion and growth, as well as a deeper understanding of China's place in the world order.