China Daily (Hong Kong)
Somali teacher happy to chart a new course
When Somali Abdilahi Ismail Abdilahi, then 23 years old, watched the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he was not only impressed by what was taking place on the track and in the pool. The soaring National Stadium and the National Aquatics Center left a deep impression, as did programs showing the English-language skills of Beijing taxi drivers and the highspeed railway.
“I thought China organized the Olympics well, and it seemed China had developed a lot,” 37-year-old Ismail says. “At that time, I was searching for a country where I could go to study abroad, so it inspired me to go to China.”
Three months after the Games, he arrived in China and was enrolled into the Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei province, as a Chinese major.
He gained a doctorate in diplomacy, and was then recruited by a postdoctoral research station at the
Wuhan University of Technology.
During his university years, he did many voluntary jobs, such as teaching English in a small village in Qinghai province for a month in 2009, and for five years, he volunteered
at a police station in Wuhan helping foreigners deal with daily problems related to housing, traffic and visas.
In 2020, under the recommendation of a friend, he left Wuhan for
Beijing to become a teacher at Beijing Foreign Studies University, teaching a general elective course in the Somali language.
“It’s my second time working as a teacher. Although I’m a bit shy, teaching really makes me happy,” says Ismail.
BFSU opened the Somali language course in 2017. That year was symbolic as it marked the 600th anniversary of the fifth voyage of Zheng He, a renowned navigator from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), to Somalia.
“Considering the strategic importance of Somalia and the long friendship between China and the African country, we felt it necessary to establish this course,” says Zhao Lei, vice-dean of the school of African Studies of BFSU.
Ismail is the only teacher of the course at present. He had six students last semester, and two this semester.
Despite the small number of students, the university insists on the
importance of the Somali language program.
“Although the cost performance may not be good enough with a small number of students, it is the university’s responsibility to cultivate people talented in this language as long as our country has the requirement, and one from which we will not shirk,” says Zhao.
Somali is one of the 101 languages that BFSU has opened courses for. According to Zhao, BFSU is the only university in China which has a Somali language course and they plan to offer a major in the language in the future.
Liu Qin’anqi, one of Ismail’s students who started to attend Somali courses in 2017, says: “My undergraduate thesis was about a survey I conducted on Chinese people’s impression of Somalia, and I found many people didn’t know much about the country.
“When I learned Somali, I was also breaking many of my stereotypical ideas of the country, and I developed an interest in African countries.”
Liu plans to continue learning the language in Somalia in the future.
Speaking about his students,
Ismail says: “I like my students at BFSU. They are smart, hardworking and thought-provoking. I hope to cultivate more talented people who can speak Somali, and who can approach the world with an international vision.”
Ma Nan, another of Ismail’s students, says: “Ismail is quite modest, and I always talk happily with him. We often discuss topics in an in-depth way, and he helps me understand more about the current situation in Africa.”
Ismail is also compiling a textbook about the Somali language in Chinese, because the only textbooks he could find to use on his course are all in English.
“I have completed part of it, and I plan to finish the book in 2022,” says Ismail. “It’s difficult for me, but I also received help and encouragement from the school.
“I like BFSU. The open, tolerant and dynamic atmosphere here is suitable for overseas teachers like me. We all feel relaxed working here. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the university’s establishment, and I feel privileged to work at such a time-honored institution,” he adds.