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Chinese language study a ticket to adventure

Thursday August 30, 2012

Chinese language study a ticket to adventure

In just two years, University of Waikato student Sarah Thomson has gone from knowing nothing about China to being selected to represent New Zealand at a Chinese language speech competition.

Sarah was one of 120 international contestants in the finals of the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition, held in Beijing last month. She had to deliver a five-minute speech in Chinese, and then sing a Chinese song.

She and the other contestants also took part in a televised performance with one of China’s most famous TV hosts, Canadian-born Dashan (Mark Rowswell) who speaks fluent Chinese.

“It was good fun,” says Sarah. “I got through to the top 30 in the competition, and we had the chance to do some sightseeing around the Forbidden City as well.”

The former Fairfield College student originally began studying English and Psychology at the University of Waikato in 2009.

“I then heard about the AIESEC exchange programme, and chose to go China even though I knew nothing about it except for noodles and pandas,” she says.

AIESEC is an international student volunteer programme operating in 110 countries worldwide.

“I spent several months teaching English in Beijing, first in a kindergarten and then in a high school, and started to learn some Chinese,” says Sarah. “And when I came back to Waikato, I swapped to a Chinese degree.”

Waikato’s small class sizes and access to a native speaker teacher were a big plus, and she says students are always encouraged to apply for scholarships and enter competitions.

Last year, she won a scholarship to spend six months on an intensive Chinese language course in Beijing, and this year she’s embarked on a conjoint law degree which she’s juggling with the final year of her Chinese degree.

“I’m hoping law will open doors to work as a bridge between China and New Zealand, plus I think it’s a good thing to have in my tool box,” she says.

Sarah is now planning to start up a youth branch of the New Zealand-China Friendship Association in Hamilton.

“China is such an important country for New Zealand, and we need more people who understand the language and culture. So I want to get my fellow students to go into the high schools to encourage more students to take up Chinese.”


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