Bridging the gap

Updated: 2011-04-29 12:27

By Tang Yue (China Daily European Weekly)

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Bridging the gap
Beijing's Tsinghua University has become the tertiary institution of choice for international students wanting to learn more about China. Provided to China Daily 

It was a place where scholars were prepared for further study in the West. the university is still playing the bridging role, but with some differences.

From its initial role as an incubator for Chinese students going overseas, Tsinghua University is now not only the first choice for gifted teens in China but it has attracted a cohort of foreign students wanting to come to China.

Since 1950, more than 18,000 foreign students have graduated from Tsinghua in increasing numbers. In 2000, the number of foreign students enrolled was 490. Last year, the number rose to 2,190.

In December 1950, 14 students from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary were enrolled in Tsinghua to study Chinese. Another 19 students from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary joined them the following year.

These 33 were the first students in the Chinese Language Class for Exchange Students from Eastern Europe.

"The living conditions were not very good at that time, but the school already tried its best, especially considering that the country had gone through the Anti-Japanese War and civil war," writes Romulus Ioan Budura, who was a Romanian student in the first group. He had recorded these memories for the 100th anniversary on April 24.

"The school provided us with warm bedding, thermos bottles, wash basins with pretty patterns and a stove. They even set up a restaurant serving European-style food," says Budura, the former Romanian ambassador to China.

Sixty years on, Tsinghua is not only able to provide world-class infrastructure and facilities for the overseas students, it has opened up almost all the faculties to them, with many courses taught in English.

"If you look at Tsinghua's history, there have been great changes since 1911," says Lilian Okoye from the US, who is doing a master's degree in international relations. "It was just a prep school in the beginning but now, people from all over the world come to Tsinghua."

"It is now a truly international university," she says, as she talks in a cafe on campus, where many foreign students practice Chinese with their language partners.

In 2008, Okoye, a junior at Columbia University, won the top honors of Chinese Bridge, the most influential Chinese proficiency competition for foreign students. Okoye then won a scholarship to study international relations at Tsinghua in 2009. She says she is fully behind US President Barack Obama's 100,000-Strong Initiative, which aims to send 100,000 students to China over the next three years.

"I support his policy on cultural and educational exchanges with China. For me, international relations is through personal meetings like we are having now," says the 25-year-old, who has been invited to perform in many programs on Chinese television since winning the contest three years ago.

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