Department of History

A student report - 'Study China'

Michael Eyley's Mandarin Class

Michael Eyley and his mandarin classmates

In summer 2014 third year history student, Michael Eyley was fortunate enough to have been selected to participate in the British Council's and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills ‘Study China’ program held at Nanjing University (南大) in Jiangsu province, China.

Michael recounts his experience abroad:

"The three week-long program consisted of intensive daily Mandarin lessons, Chinese history lectures, calligraphy, tai chi and numerous cultural excursions. August 2014 was a fitting month as ever to live in the ancient city of Nanjing, as I saw it host the 2nd International Youth Olympic Games; providing us with a fine opportunity to see traditional Chinese culture intermix with Chinese ambitions on the international stage. We were fortunate enough to see the badminton and beach volleyball trials as two of our excursions.

The main aspect of the program, of course, were the daily Mandarin lessons. These were three hours in length, and were structured to give us a growing foundation in the basics of the language. Listening, speaking, writing (in both pinyin and Chinese characters) and reading were all covered in class and at night through the extensive daily ‘homework’ exercises. At the end of the program, our ‘Laoshis’ (teachers) gave us extensive examinations in all four of these aspects.

The other academic component of the program were the Chinese history lectures. These were delivered by a professional historian resident at the university, and took a chronological approach to 4000 years of Chinese history; interestingly, during the last lecture we discovered that this time-frame ended in the mid-19th Century because 'Chinese History isn’t very nice after this point.' We found time to visit the rather sombre Nanjing Massacre Museum where China more accurately, and graphically, tackles one of the less pleasant episodes of its recent history.

All in all, the program was a rewarding success. On a personal level, it gave me the opportunity to live not only in a unique culture, but in a city with a colourful history. More significantly, it allowed me to really get to grips with an invaluable foreign language in the classroom and then simultaneously practice this outside on the streets with locals.

Another interesting highlight was experiencing the very different styles in teaching the academic historians at Nanjing University had in comparison with those at The University of Nottingham; sources are seldom cross-examined and lecturers take a position significantly above the student in the teaching relationship- in China, history seems to be consulted, not enthusiastically and critically chased down. Most Nottingham students will have heard of their University’s commitment to China, with the highly successful Ningbo campus where UK students, especially History students, have the opportunity to study on inter-campus exchange.

Participating in this program in China really brought home the growing significance of China as not only a giant in the global economic and political sphere, but also as a rising force in higher education. After speaking to British students representing other UK Universities on the program, it’s obvious that The University of Nottingham stands out as taking this in its stride; with the Department of History doing all it can to ensure students can take advantage of the delights China offers."

Posted on Tuesday 4th November 2014

Department of History

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