My Journey to the East
By Zuzana Pavlonova
At the group COVID-19 vaccination campaign for foreign experts. (PHOTO provided by author)
Usually, I tell people that my story about China began in 2010, when I started studying Cultural Studies of China in Czech Republic. But the truth is, I had my first encounter with China much earlier, as a child.
My first impressions of China
My grandparents lived with us in a newly built house. They did not have too many belongings, but the ones they had were family treasures. One of them was a very old and beautiful world globe. I always wanted to play with it, but my grandmother wouldn't allow me to. "This globe is very precious to me," she said, "because my father brought it from his travels around the world. He brought it all the way from China."
I didn't know anything about China at that time, but I could see it on the globe, as a faraway and mysterious place. Later on, I was enchanted with the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, from Chinese director Ang Lee. The beauty of traditional Chinese clothing, bamboo forests and calmness of the main character were so different from what I saw around me.
China — my destiny
Much later, when I learned the Chinese word "缘分" (destiny), I realized that this word perfectly described why I studied Cultural Studies of China. And that is how my journey to the East began.
After learning the Chinese language, history, literature and culture for 3 years, I obtained a scholarship to Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Coming from a little village with 700 inhabitants, arriving in Shanghai was a shock. The city was always bustling with activities round the clock.
One year of studying in China went by quickly, and it made me realize that I really enjoyed life here, so I decided to stay.
New adventure in Xiamen
After graduation, I obtained a MOFCOM scholarship for Xiamen University's College of Foreign Languages. When I first arrived in Xiamen in 2015, I wasn't ready for the heat and humidity.
However, after seeing the Xiamen University campus, I understood why it is regarded as the most beautiful university in China. The tropical architectural style of dormitories, paths lined with mango trees and deafening chirping of cicadas became my daily companions.
At first, it was very difficult to settle in. I quickly realized that my Chinese language skill was not good enough to handle more than basic communication, and I felt lost and alone. Luckily, I was surrounded by my amazing Chinese classmates, who helped me understand the university course system, study schedule and life on the campus.
I will be forever grateful for their selfless help in those overwhelming few weeks, and I believe this experience made me understand that I can use my knowledge and contacts to help others.
After I was well settled at school, I realized Xiamen has a very specific, ancient culture and history, and I was eager to know more about it. During my free time, I used to walk around Shapowei, Zhongshan Road and Zhongshan Park, always finding new evidence of Xiamen's rich history.
Becoming a volunteer with One World Project
I was also actively participating in many volunteer organizations, with Boai Social Work Service Center's One World Project in Guanren International Community being one of them. Thanks to the fact that my Chinese improved tremendously during my studies, I was able to provide translation for the expats in the community.
After graduating from Xiamen University in 2018, I was offered a full time position as an interpreter/social worker for the One World Project. In the following three years, the project team helped an immense number of expats in Xiamen with daily issues, including visiting hospitals, renting apartments or teaching Chinese.
Especially during the pandemic, our support proved crucial, creating a communication bridge among the local government and the expat community.
In July 2021, we finished the Welcome to Xiamen, Guide for Expats booklet, which has since been nicknamed as an encyclopedia for Xiamen. Many long-term Xiamen based expats confessed to me that they wished this Guide had existed when they first arrived.
Becoming a consultant for the XFPSC
Receiving the letter of appointment as a consultant for the XFPSC at the opening ceremony of the Guanren Branch. (PHOTO provided by author)
Thanks to the support of Xiamen Municipal Bureau of Science and Technology and Management Committee of Torch High-Tech Zone, the Xiamen Foreign Professionals Service Center (XFPSC) was established last year. This year, Guanren Branch, XFPSC was launched. Becoming the second Consultant of the Service Center, it is my greatest honor to help expats coming to Xiamen with their work or life related issues.
Apart from creating a WeChat mini program, Amoyer, that provides videos with service info for helping expats, we regularly organize lectures and events. Recently, we organized a group vaccination especially for expats on August 6. Almost 400 expats received their COVID-19 vaccines during the event. Our services have been highly praised by individuals as well as enterprises.
With Xiamen attracting more and more expat professionals, I am looking forward to helping them discover the beauty and warmth of this city, just as my classmates helped me all those years ago.
Zuzana Pavlonova serves as a Consultant of Guanren Branch, XFPSC. The views don't necessarily reflect those of the S&T Daily.