Chinese culture enhanced my pursuit of quality education

Chinese government scholarships

Beneficiaries of the 2023 Chinese government scholarships for Kenyan students at a sendoff ceremony in Nairobi on August 10, 2023. 

Photo credit: Pool

China has emerged as a highly sought-after destination for students aiming to acquire a new language alongside their primary courses. In the past, government-sponsored students constituted the majority of those heading to China. However, recent years have witnessed a significant surge in self-sponsored students pursuing advanced studies in China.

In 2021, China hosted a staggering 500,000 international students, solidifying its position as the world's second-largest host of international students. A significant portion of this diverse group comprises African students, underscoring the growing appeal of Chinese universities for higher education. The surge is motivated by various factors, including the value-for-money aspect.

As Sun Tzu writes in The Art of War, "Opportunities multiply as they are seized". Studying in China offers an automatic opportunity to immerse oneself in the Chinese language in a conducive environment with native speakers and it typically takes just a year to achieve proficiency. Furthermore, students can enhance their language skills while simultaneously pursuing their major courses.

Traditional Chinese medicine

China presents a host of opportunities to study a wide range of subjects—including science, engineering, space science and the arts. Students even have the option to delve into traditional Chinese medicine, encompassing practices such as acupuncture and massage, which can be valuable skills to possess.

The first Kenyan students arrived in China in 1982. They embarked on learning the Chinese language and subsequently integrated it into their undergraduate engineering programmes. Upon returning home, they applied their acquired skills to contribute to the growth of their country.

Confucius said: "Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace." Many students who have undergone education in China have honed diverse skills, opening doors to a multitude of job opportunities worldwide.

In 1998, I experienced my first cultural shock upon arriving in China. But the warm reception extended by the Chinese people facilitated my quick adaptation. I vividly remember my initial week, during which I resorted to hand signals for communication as I couldn't comprehend a word of Chinese.

However, my fellow students and university peers demonstrated a remarkable willingness to assist me. One classmate even volunteered to translate notes for me while others offered free tutoring after classes. My supervisor went beyond the call if duty, arranging for a staff member to teach me Chinese vocabulary pertinent to my major, chemistry. This kind gesture remains etched in my memory.

Spicy cuisine

One of my most cherished experiences was during a winter holiday when students were returning home to reunite with their families. I had no plans for travel but a college mate named Jeff invited me to journey with him to his hometown, over 6,000 kilometres away by train. I accepted the invitation and we embarked on a three-day journey to the southern region of China.

Jeff's family and relatives welcomed us with open arms. We visited farms, explored nearby towns and savoured spicy cuisine in the countryside. We celebrated the spring festival with his family. I was even treated as an honorary family member, receiving "Hóngbāo", the money traditionally gifted to children and grandparents during the festival. I've preserved the 200 RMB in pristine currency notes to this day.

This most humbling encounter imparted in me the invaluable lesson of embracing, respecting and appreciating other people. Jeff's kin had never before hosted an African guest, yet they went out of their way to make me feel at home during my week-long stay. By the time I departed, I was fluent in the local dialect (well, almost!)

Language acquisition

My education in China was holistic, encompassing not only language acquisition and my major field of study but also immersion in the rich tapestry of Chinese culture. This cultural immersion included imbibing values such as diligence in work, the importance of honouring promises and debts and mastery of diverse Chinese culinary traditions. Many of the values I hold dear can be traced back to my time in China.

In recent years, Kenya has been sending more than 100 students to esteemed universities in China every year, capitalising on the remarkable educational opportunities in this diverse Asian country. We have established a dynamic Kenya China Alumni Association, uniting Kenyan individuals who have studied in China.

The association's aim is to foster cultural and economic collaboration between Kenya and China through our motto "Hùxiāng bāngzhù (Helping Each Other, Celebrating Differences, Bridging Cultures)". I encourage parents and students to explore the myriad educational possibilities in China and anticipate future gratitude for this enriching experience.

Dr Rotich is the chairman, Kenya China Alumni Association. [email protected].