Coming from Hungary, Péter Sczigel found China to be drastically different from home. Yet, he adapted quickly. Soon, Péter was exploring both on Beida’s beautiful campus and in the outskirts of the city. As he carved out his own Beijing experience, Jingyuan became emblematic of university life in China. Almost “fairytale-like” in its beauty and design, Jingyuan symbolized a year of adventure.
Q: What inspired you to apply to the Yenching Academy of Peking University (YCA)?
A: I started learning Chinese when I was sixteen, back in high school, which led me to take a study trip to China in high school. At the time, I had never been outside of Europe before, so I found China to be both super interesting and a bit of a culture shock. I later went to Shanghai for a month of summer school when I realized that China is much more than a study trip for a week and a half. Finally, I decided that I wanted to go back and live in China for an extended amount of time — maybe a year or two — so Yenching seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Q: What role did Jingyuan play in your life on campus?
A: The buildings appear fairytale-like, but from the inside are super-modern. I found it to be a shocking discrepancy between how it looked on the outside and how it looked on the inside. It made the whole experience feel like a fairytale, particularly in the spring when beautiful flowers decorated the compound. I remember when I first stepped inside, I felt amazed, like, “Wow, this is where we are going to study?” The design of the building shaped my perception of the program.
Jingyuan features a large field with six buildings around it, each dedicated to a different purpose. The field became a place for people to hang out all the time. If you passed by you knew someone would be hanging around, throwing a frisbee or sitting together. It truly had a community vibe.
At Yenching Academy, you not only use Jingyuan for classes, but also for social events. Once we had an end of the year party in the courtyard of the compound; Jinguan was a mix between study and leisure, much like the building was a mix between old and new. Yenching as a whole builds on these different elements.
Q: How did your experiences on campus, and at Jingyuan in particular, situate your larger experience living in Beijing?
A: Compared to Europe, in Beijing, everything appears different. Both the culture shock from going there and then the reverse-culture shock hit me. The physical allocation of space as well as the way of life — everything was new. I think everyone has a different Beijing. For me, the place that was my Beijing was the far-out suburb of Changping where my girlfriend lived, but that struck me as very authentic Beijing. Since the suburb was so far out, it had hole-in-the wall restaurants and street food vendors that you would not see in the city center or in Beida.
Being in Beijing felt really alien, not in a bad way, but it was so different from what I was used to. I think it added a lot to who I am and my perspectives now in Europe and throughout the world.
When I came back from Beijing, I tried to explain what it’s like, but I think you can’t really explain what it’s like until you go there.