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My Chinese university journey: from a foreign teacher's perspective

Updated: May 25, 2023 By Sugath Rathnayake chinadaily.com.cn Print
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Name: Sugath Rathnayake

Nationality: Sri Lanka

University: Yunnan University

Location: Yunnan

Due to the fierce competition for university entrance, very few people in every country have access to university education. So, it's really a great opportunity for a student in their lifetime. It is even more important to have the opportunity to study at a foreign university outside your motherland.

How fortunate is it to go beyond that and work as a teacher at a foreign university? I share my university story as a past student as well as a present teacher who has conquered all these opportunities.

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My Chinese university story begins with the end of my tenure with the China Media Group (CMG) and joining as a teacher at the Foreign Languages School of Yunnan University. Accordingly, I had the honor of being the first foreign teacher in the Department of Sinhala Language Studies at Yunnan University.

From the moment I was received at Kunming International Airport one day in the middle of the night in September 2020, our university has taken care of me with the utmost love and respect.

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My university is located in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China. Known as the Spring City of China, Kunming is a beautiful city with a mild and pleasant climate. As a Sri Lankan living in Kunming, I do not see much difference between the Chinese and the Sri Lankan people.

When I play basketball with university students, I feel like I've playing with friends in Sri Lanka. Going out to eat feels like going to a hotel in Sri Lanka. When I teach university students, I feel like I teach Sri Lankan students. Also, there is no shortage of loving words like 你好, 老师好, 吃饭了吗.

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My Chinese university life, which is not limited to teaching, is like a big tree full of challenges and achievements. As its branches spread, my story expands across various fields. While I’m working as a teacher, I shared my knowledge, understanding and experience about China with world readers. I shared this knowledge by writing articles in English on many subjects for mainstream Chinese newspapers such as China Daily and People's Daily. The articles were appreciated not only by readers but also by universities.

Another highlight of my university story was winning second place in the "China and Me, Five Years from Now" storytelling contest jointly organized by China Daily and Bank of China. I won this award out of 138 entries submitted by international students and foreign experts from more than 30 countries and regions. This victory not only enhanced my reputation, but also the reputation of my motherland, Sri Lanka, and the Yunnan University where I teach.

The opening of a new Sinhala language library at Yunnan University with 1000 Sinhala books under my initiative is the most important and valuable event not only in my university life but in my entire life. We named it the "Sri Lanka-China Friendship Library”. Books are our friends. The scholar Francis Bacon has said that reading makes is a full man. So, the opening of this library will not only be a historic achievement in my life but will also turn a new page in China-Sri Lankan relations.

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During my university life, I had the opportunity to attend and address a number of international conferences and forums. Through these conferences, I was able to absorb knowledge and share my experiences with others. I was invited to address the 11th China-South Asia International Cultural Forum on Regional Development. All of these opportunities illuminated my university life.

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I was also invited to a special program on "Foreign Experts in Yunnan" co-produced by the Yunnan Provincial Department of Science and Technology and the Yunnan Broadcasting and Television Station. This is a program that involves foreign experts who have contributed to the development of Yunnan Province. Representing Yunnan University, I was invited to that program, which was a significant moment in my university story.

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I was fortunate to participate in the "Zhi & Xing Guizhou" Silk Road International Youth Exchange Program. This program, will never be forgotten in my life. I was also lucky to address the graduation ceremony of this program. After a week-long youth exchange program, I flew from Bijie to Kunming, hoping to visit Guizhou again.

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The invitation to give a number of guest lectures on various topics was an important moment in my university story. Among them are "China in My Eyes" at Yunnan University's Graduate School of Chinese Language International Education and "Sri Lankan Media in Digital Age" at Journalism School of Yunnan University. Through these lectures I was able to contribute to the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes of postgraduates who studying difference majors.

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Although I have various academic duties, almost every evening I do not forget to play basketball at the University. I never played basketball before coming to university. But in a short time after coming to university, I learned to play basketball. My coaches were the students who played with me day by day.

They taught me how to play basketball, its rules and techniques. Now I can fight shoulder to shoulder with them, too.

During my university life I attended in many cultural activities such as Chinese calligraphy, paper cutting, ethnic minority sports, folk music and dance. Through these cultural activities, it was possible to absorb the scent of the Chinese people's life, identify their customs, traditions and life of the villagers.

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As a university teacher, I also teach life lessons to students on how to endure and overcome challenges to achieve their lofty goals. Henry Adams, a historian, once said that a teacher affects eternity, and it is impossible to say where his influence will end.

Therefore, we must teach students according to the ancient Chinese Proverb "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime" (授人以鱼不如授人以). My future aspiration is to brighten the future of thousands more young university students.

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