China Daily (Hong Kong)
Student’s way with words opens door to Chinese adventure
When Polish student Anna Kuniczuk was on an exchange program at the University of Helsinki in 2010, she discovered, to her delight, that there were many free language classes available. Due to her interest in the East, she decided to learn Chinese, and that started her relationship with China.
She posted that she was learning Chinese on Facebook, and that attracted the attention of Chinese students at the university. They contacted her, encouraged and helped her to learn Chinese, and invited her to participate in activities like making dumplings. “Chinese people are really friendly. They are not shy, and would like to talk with you. They just have the magic to make you continue learning Chinese,” she says.
She also looked online for Chinese native speakers with whom to be language partners, so that she could learn Chinese from them and they could learn English from her. It worked better than expected, as one of them eventually became her husband — when she would become Anna Yang.
In 2013, after graduating from Jagiellonian University with a bachelor’s degree in Polish, Yang won a scholarship from the Confucius Institute and went to Beijing Foreign Studies University to major in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages.
“BFSU is very conducive to learning languages. You can always hear students speaking in various languages, and you can easily find a partner with whom to improve your language skills,” says Yang.
“More importantly, you can communicate with people from many different countries. People can form stereotypical ideas about people from other countries,” she says, adding that such impressions soon vanish amid new friendships.
Fujita Saki, a Japanese classmate of Yang at the university, says: “She is a very active learner. When we, as overseas students, had lessons with Chinese students, she was never too shy to raise her hand and express her ideas in Chinese. She really integrates herself well within Chinese society.”
Yang is particularly captivated by Chinese characters. “I never thought learning Chinese was very hard. Chinese characters are very beautiful and each of them carries a story,” Yang says. “When learning the characters you also learn a lot about Chinese history, and that is very interesting.”
She cites the example of the character ri in Chinese, which means “the sun”. The character originated from the shape of a sun, and legends related to it include that of houyi sheri, about an archer, Houyi, who saved the Earth by shooting down nine extra suns. “They contain interesting stories, and such Chinese legends are fascinating to me,” she says.
“Maybe it’s destiny that I came to China, and I even like eating mooncakes, a traditional Chinese food associated with MidAutumn Festival, more than any of my friends, either Chinese or from overseas,” she jokes.
After graduating in 2016 and obtaining her master’s degree, Yang was recruited by the International Space Science Institute in Beijing, and organized academic seminars and edited academic journals. She got married to her Chinese beau and in 2017, the couple welcomed their daughter.
In 2019, she started to pursue her doctorate at BFSU again. “I already felt that BFSU was a good place when I was a postgraduate student there, so I returned. Teachers here really know how to help their students,” says Yang, who is researching second-language acquisition, with her daughter becoming an object of her study.
In the future, she wants to work as a Chinese teacher in Poland.
“I met some people from a Polish university who told me they were in urgent need of Chinese teachers who can speak Polish. Now, such lessons are mainly taught by Chinese people there, and they also want to find some local teachers who can explain the grammar in Polish,” Yang says.
“I feel good about my experience teaching Chinese at the Polish embassy in China when I was a postgraduate student, so I want to become a teacher in the future, and I will try to teach Chinese to local people from my perspective.”