Creating connections through Mandarin: recent graduate Marina Rupp

Marina Rupp is a student from Austria who came to Leeds to study Geography and Mathematics. She had her eyes on the Business Confucius Institute (BCI) evening courses throughout her undergraduate degree, and finally completed levels 1 and 2 after graduating.

What attracted Marina to Mandarin and why did it take her so long to take the plunge? Read on to find out how informal cultural exchanges enriched her university experience, leading her step by step into engaging with the language too. 

An international background 

As an international student herself Marina could empathise greatly with others who were going through the same experience. Global Café and International Students Club became important parts of her social life in Leeds, and it was there that she met people from all around the world, including many Chinese students.  

Being able to connect with people and respect their culture has always been very important to Marina, and she had seen the benefits of this during her travels:

I realised when I’m travelling and I’m able to say ‘hello/thank you/you’re welcome’ to someone in their native language, people are really happy – it can make their day! 

Marina wanted to be able to communicate with the large number of Chinese students in their most familiar language, even just to say hello and ask them how they were, as she realised how important this could be in creating more meaningful connections and making everyone feel as welcome as possible.

This empathy she had for the students in her community is what motivated her to learn Chinese.   

[Learning Chinese] is like a sign of respect towards their culture. 

Developing friendships

A little Mandarin goes a long way

Prior to taking the leap into formal classes Marina learnt small phrases from her friends, which she loved to share with Chinese students she met.

In the build-up to the Chinese New Year, her flatmate taught her how to say ‘Happy New Year’ in Mandarin. She was so excited to use her new knowledge with her Chinese coursemates, and they were delighted that she had taken the time to learn about their language and culture!

These special moments between Marina and her friends pushed her to learn more Chinese. 

Enriching cultural experiences

Most of my friends in first year were from Global Café.

At Global Café, Marina also enjoyed cultural exchanges with Chinese students. She and her friends took it in turns to cook meals for one another from their home country, and they would go to restaurants and try each other’s traditional foods. 

She looks back fondly on these experiences that brought them closer together and helped them all to feel more at home.  

I remember one time someone wrote my name in Chinese characters – I thought it was so pretty.  

She remembers trying mooncakes and having her name written in Chinese characters by her friend. She thought the characters were so pretty that she hung it on her bedroom wall, where it remains to this day! 

Tempted to learn Mandarin… but would she have time?

Marina initially discovered the BCI Chinese courses at a university fair in her second year and was immediately interested. However, at the time she was balancing a joint-honours course in Geography and Mathematics with social activities, as well as her other hobbies like dancing.

She felt that it would be difficult to squeeze Mandarin into her tight schedule, and every time she considered enrolling on the course, she pushed the decision back, hoping that in the future she would have enough time to dedicate to the course.  

Eventually, Marina had her ‘now or never’ moment! She enrolled in the Level 1 course whilst doing her Master’s degree, and swiftly progressed to Level 2. Marina was highly successful in the courses, and enjoyed them thoroughly. 

I just thought ‘I like learning languages, let’s see how it goes

Now, after taking the courses (with great success!), Marina looks back and feels that it would not have been difficult to fit Chinese into her schedule. The course was not too time-consuming and the teachers are so understanding of students’ other commitments.  

I would have managed it – it’s just once a week!

Having studied languages at school, Marina knew that she worked well with having a structured teaching environment. She enjoys having guidance from a teacher and a textbook, and this is what drew her to enrolling on the BCI course rather than trying self-study using apps like Duolingo.  

Marina’s experience of learning Mandarin

Marina has extensive experience of learning languages, having studied English, French and Italian at school. She recognises that her multilingual background gave her advantages when learning Chinese. She developed certain skills while living in the UK, such as getting used to different accents and overcoming cultural differences. She has also become accustomed to a wider range of sounds, which someone with minimal language learning experience may not have. 

The inner drive and passion keeps you going.

Despite this experience, Marina notes that Mandarin was a completely different challenge! She found it difficult to get used to using tones and learning to read and write Chinese characters.

However, her passion and drive for learning Mandarin pushed her to work through these challenges, and she is keen to continue doing so.

Looking to the future

The ultimate goal would be to do all the courses!

After eyeing up the BCI courses for three years, Marina is pleased that she finally took the first step! Aside from the social and cultural benefits, Marina says that she has also noticed many employers that are looking for people who can speak Mandarin. 

After flourishing in the first two BCI courses, Marina would like to continue with her studies of Mandarin and hopes to complete more of the evening courses, as well as taking the HSK 1 exam 

Further reading

The Mandarin Aspirations Project

We aim to encourage and celebrate the learning of Chinese by sharing the motivations (why study Chinese), study experiences (challenges and rewards) and study outcomes (employability, confidence and intercultural skills) of Chinese language learners. We hope that these Mandarin Aspirations stories will encourage those of you already studying Chinese, and inspire new learners to join a growing and supportive community of Chinese language enthusiasts in the UK.