US student awed by China's nature, culture
Andrew Fowler (second from left) enjoys an activity showcasing Zhuang traditions in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in September. CHINA DAILY
Finalist in global language competition eager to spread positive message. Linda Deng reports in Seattle.
Andrew Fowler, a fourth-year student from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, described his recent experience in China as an unexpected and incredible surprise.
His participation in the 22nd "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students brought him to China, where he joined over 150 young people from 124 countries who competed for the global championship on Sept 2 in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
Initially unsure of the scale of the competition, Fowler never imagined he would make it to the finals and have the opportunity to explore China. The event marked the first offline gathering of the competition in China since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the competition began, contestants enjoyed a three-week summer camp in Beijing, and the cities of Baise and Guilin in Guangxi. Fowler said he cherished the time he spent in the picturesque countryside of Guangxi, where he had the chance to immerse himself in the local culture, interact with ethnic minorities, and sample various delicacies.
He said the knowledge he had acquired through documentaries and literature about ethnic minorities in Southwest China was enhanced by witnessing firsthand the thriving culture in their communities.
"The villagers greeted us and organized beautiful ceremonies where the Zhuang people and the Yao people danced, wearing their traditional regalia. They showed us their textiles and basketry, and we had the chance to hear their languages.
"On top of that, the chance to see the beautiful nature in Guilin that inspired so many old Chinese painters was very special," he said.
The United States student said he was moved by the richness of their traditions and their commitment to preserving their languages and arts and crafts. "A lot of people outside of China wouldn't even know this is a part of China, because they don't think of the ethnic minorities in the southwest. Seeing such a beautiful part of China where the cultural traditions and languages of its ethnic minorities are thriving was very moving to me," Fowler added.
As one of the finalists in the global competition, Fowler was also involved in a "Chinese Culture Experience Day" at Guangxi University, participating in lectures, symposiums and campus tours.
Ingrained in culture
Fowler said he is impressed that cultural references and philosophical ideas are deep-rooted in everyday conversations in China. Having grown up near Chinatown in Oakland, California, Fowler's interest in Mandarin was sparked in high school by a passionate teacher eager to impart some concepts from Chinese philosophy. His time in China only solidified his appreciation for the country's respect for its cultural heritage and artistic traditions.
"One thing that really moved me in China is that when you're talking to people on the street or just talking to friends, there seems to be a common foundation of quotes from well-known works. The majority of people will know quotes from Chinese philosophers and poets," he said.
Fowler finished third in the global final, and has encouraged others to take the opportunity to participate in the "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition.
"You will be able to actually understand China much better when you go there," he said.
"Also, you will meet friends both from China and from around the world. The point is to build bridges between cultures, and it's not just a bridge between your culture and Chinese culture — it's also a bridge between your culture and the cultures of all the other competitors."
A group photo of all the contestants participating in the "Chinese Bridge" competition for foreign secondary school students is taken at the ceremony held in Kunming last month. LIU RANYANG/CHINA NEWS SERVICE
The cross-cultural exchanges and enduring friendships he cultivated during the event had "transformative power", he said. "Now I have friends who I hope to eventually visit in Europe, in Australia, in Asia, in Africa, in South America, because we are from all around the world, and we're all still in contact," Fowler said.
Upon his return to the United States, Fowler shared his experiences with local communities, aiming to foster a deeper understanding of Chinese culture.
"I also brought back a lot of little gifts for my professors and friends such as bookmarks with quotes from Chinese philosophers or idioms," he added.
Fowler also won a Chinese-language study scholarship from the Chinese government, which has solidified his commitment to fostering international connections and cultural appreciation. He plans to pursue further studies in Mandarin and linguistics in China after graduation.
Contestants take selfies at an awards ceremony of the competition in Kunming, Yunnan province, last month. LIU RANYANG/CHINA NEWS SERVICE
"I don't believe you can ever understand a country without going there and then having lived there. I've only spent three weeks in China. I need to spend a lot more time there, which is why I plan to return," he said.
In Fowler's own words, his journey has given him a broader perspective and a deeper appreciation for the richness of cultural diversity, to better understand different worldviews and the multifaceted tapestry of human experience.
"On a personal level, it's remarkably enriching to be able to go to a foreign country and to discover that many people think differently about some things," he said. "They have different ways of understanding the world, and their perspectives are equally as valuable as yours. Your heart gets larger and your understanding gets deeper."