Sun Rui feels that one meal guided her to choose German as her major. She hopes her studies will open doors in Europe: for her, Switzerland is a paradise.
When speaking with Chinese people about their life choices, the word yuanfen tends to pop up. It usually refers to fate or predestination, an implication that previous events have lead them to where they are now.
So is the case with Sun Rui, 18, a freshman of German language and culture at Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).
Sun has never been to Europe, but she feels that she was somewhat guided to choose German.
”In the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai I went to the German pavillion, alone. I ate a meal there, and that was the only meal I ate in the expo. Maybe it was a coincidence that lead me here.”
Unlike most of her peers, Sun Rui didn’t have to go through the common route to begin her higher education.
Instead of doing the entrance exam called gaokao which around 10 million Chinese teenagers do every year, Sun was able to enrol in BFSU based on the recommendations given to her by her high school teachers.
Her high school in Wuhan, Hubei Province, specializes on foreign languages. This is a natural starting point for applying to a language university like BFSU.
”I didn’t really think about avoiding the gaokao when I started the arts programme in high school. But I had the chance, so I had to take it into consideration. If I had rejected it, that would have meant I would’ve lost a chance. Luckily I’m now here.”
Sun feels studying German is an opportunity for the future. She also considered studying Spanish, but she preferred the prospects of Central Europe over Spain or Latin America.
”German is relatively widely used in Europe. I also like Switzerland very much, because of the scenery and high living standards. The prices are high too, of course. But that’s the paradise”, Sun laughs.
Going to Germany on an exchange can be a bit difficult for her, though. The German students are probably in the worst position in BFSU when it comes to studying abroad.
There are 93 students of German language in Sun’s class but only 15 spots reserved for an exchange in Germany. She knows she needs to try her best to get in. The exchange students are chosen not only based on their grades, but also their extracurricular activities.
”We have the least chances to go abroad, so the competition is huge. The English majors have around 90 people, and half of them can go abroad.”
The university life in China continues to be very competitive, Sun says.
”It is different from high school, but the competitiveness is still inside the Chinese education system. But I don’t think being hard-working is that bad. Being hard-working is very important for people of every age.”
Sun feels that the gaokao, which she avoided, is pretty fair for students. What is not fair, she says, is that large cities like Beijing and Shanghai have quotas for university applicants from their area. That way those cities can protect their own high schoolers.
Students from urban areas still dominate Chinese universities. Only one in nine Chinese continue to higher education, and the ratio is much lower in rural areas.
According to The Economist, in 2010 the elite school Qinghua University had only 17 percent of its freshmen from rural and poor areas. In the 1970s the figure was around 50 percent.
Sun still thinks higher education is reachable even for poor families.
”Nowadays, economic inequality is not a problem, at least not in the cities. Most parents are able to send their children to the university, and there are also scholarship programs”, Sun says.