A Chinese love story with a foreign twist
​By Oliver Hassan  ·  2024-01-30  ·   Source:


Oliver Hassan (left) with members of BNU's String Society (COURTESY PHOTO)

As a British student currently studying at Beijing Normal University (BNU), with an aspiration to work in China in the future, I'm often asked: "What is it that you love about China?" and "Why do you want to live and work in China?"

These questions may seem somewhat easy to answer, but in recent years, I've always found it difficult to answer succinctly. In the beginning, I was attracted by traditional Chinese culture, but my love for China now goes far beyond enjoying traditional festivals and legends.

Some might say that my love for China was love at first sight — which implies the sort of feeling that fades away with time — but my feeling is not so superficial. My love of China really is a true love, in the same way that a husband and wife are able to love each other for life. If someone asked a man, "What is it that makes you love your wife?", is this possible to answer? In the same way, it is not possible for me to answer why I love China in the way that I do. Though I am not Chinese and do not have Chinese relatives, I nevertheless believe my love for China is not dissimilar from the way in which Chinese people love their own country, as it is also impossible for them to use clear and succinct language to express their love for their country.

My first visit to China was in 2016 with my school and Chinese teacher. At that time, I had studied Chinese for four years. When our teacher announced to us that she had arranged a trip to Beijing, I was ecstatic at the thought, but knew that finding the not-insubstantial amount required to pay for the trip would be a challenge. However, I did not lose hope. Through organizing some cake sales in the school canteen as well as a sponsored swim, within a year, I was able to collect the funds I needed to go to Beijing.

Before going to China, the furthest place I had been to was Normandy, France, approximately 500 kilometers from my hometown of London. I had not flown on a jumbo jet before, let alone been on a long-distance flight. One could say those six days in Beijing were life-changing for me. As I thought at the time that I may have to wait until I start working before I would have the opportunity to return to China, I very much cherished those six days in Beijing. I took over 1,000 photos, used my broken Chinese to write diary entries, and persisted in using Chinese to communicate with the locals. One day, we visited a middle school, where I met a teacher who, seeing my passion for China and Chinese, suggested that I consider coming to Beijing to study in the future.

So, my pursuit of studying, and ultimately working in China, had begun. First, I studied at Tsinghua University for a time, although this was cut short due to COVID-19, before applying for the joint honors degree program that I am currently on, which allowed me to study at BNU for two years as part of the program.

My six months or so at Tsinghua, and what will be two years at BNU, has very much consolidated my aspiration to live and work in China. During my time at BNU, I have tried my best to embed myself into university life and engage with Chinese students naturally, yet proactively. One of the ways in which I've done this, is by pursuing one of my other passions — playing the violin — and joining the university's String Society, of which I am now vice president. Organizing concerts and rehearsing with fellow students has really made me feel a part of the community at BNU. Although I am a foreign student, and my Chinese far from perfect, this foreign identity is nevertheless forgotten. In fact, my Chinese friends outnumber my friends in the UK, and Chinese has become my first language of choice. It has become the norm for me to use Chinese when thinking, such that I believe the way in which I think has become quite different from that of a "standard" Westerner. This is the power of learning a language and why it is so important — it builds bridges, resolves misunderstandings and makes the people of the world more connected.

Though I may be British on the outside, on the inside, I have developed a heart for China, a passion for China, a love for China, and it is this heart for China that is my life force and my destiny.

Oliver Hassan is a British student currently pursuing a dual degree in Chinese language and culture at Beijing Normal University and Cardiff University.

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