In the autumn of 2020, with the support of Cuiying Honors College, I gained the opportunity to go on a semester-long exchange to Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea. Considering the global spread of COVID-19, it was a miracle that both SKKU and LZU managed to make this exchange possible. Undoubtedly, although the epidemic caused a lot of uncertainty and difficulties during the five-month period, in general it was still a very rewarding and worthwhile experience.
If I were to sum up the experience in one word, I would choose ‘refreshing’. Confucius said, ‘If you learn alone and have no friends, you are alone and uneducated.’ Confucius’ words are still reasonable, for only through contact with others can we obtain new knowledge and dispel old stereotypes. This, I think, is the reason why ‘exchange’ is needed. My trip to Korea has enabled me to break down old stereotypes and gain new knowledge, both in academic and non-academic fields. The following is a brief account of my personal experiences and thoughts on these two aspects.
As a traditional Chinese student, I was almost completely unaware of the scene of overseas Chinese studies. Since it is a ‘traditional Chinese’ study, it is easy to slide into the stereotype that Chinese scholars have the most say and the conclusions of Chinese scholars are the most authoritative; foreign research results can in turn be ignored. However, after studying in Korea, I gradually changed this prejudice. For one thing, overseas scholars were not necessarily as unaware of ancient Chinese culture as I had assumed. Japan and Korea began their relationship with China long ago, and have had a long history of academic interaction with Chinese scholars, and Chinese characters are still part of their daily life. It would be ridiculous to suggest that scholars from these two countries have difficulty in gaining a deeper understanding of ancient China. Even in Europe and the United States, there are many scholars who can read ancient Chinese and use modern Chinese fluently. We need not treat our native language skills as some treasure that others cannot get. On the other hand, overseas scholars have some advantages that mainland Chinese scholars do not have: the atmosphere encourage innovation; scholars are more willing to adopt new research paradigms and make new conjectures. Overseas scholars of Chinese studies are often fluent in multiple languages, reading Chinese literature in various languages and communicating with scholars from various countries. A German researcher of Chinese philosophy wrote in Chinese in the introduction to the Chinese translation of his book, ‘At a time when research in three or four languages - Chinese, English, Japanese and French - has become quite common among overseas researchers of Chinese studies, this is still a rarity in mainland China, even for the younger generation of scholars.’ We should really feel ashamed to read such words!
Apart from academics, I have broadened my horizons in many other ways. What kind of a country is Korea? Apart from pop culture such as Korean dramas and K-Pop, what else do we know about Korea and its people? For the first time in Korea, I saw students bowing to their teachers, and for the first time, I saw young people actually giving way to the elderly in the bus queue. What is it like to communicate with foreigners in English? The biggest thing I gained was the confidence that foreigners can really understand my English……. The list goes on and on.
Of course, the exchange also left a lot of regrets. My biggest regret is that I did not learn Korean well before going to Korea. It is possible to ‘survive’ using English, but if you really want to assimilate into the local society and culture, Korean is still essential. I hope that all students reading this article will be better prepared to learn the language in advance, wherever they are going for exchange, so that they can get more during the exchange period. However, if I hadn’t had this exchange period, I wouldn’t have started to learned a second foreign language at all! Therefore, I still encourage all of you to go abroad and see what the world is like for yourself if the situation permits. The reward won’t let you down.