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Bridging the gap between Italy and China 

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 Elena Soatti during her Chinese Bridge Competition performance 

In January 2013, my classmates and I received an email from our Chinese teacher about a Chinese proficiency competition for International students. The so-called Chinese Bridge Competition. Before that day I had never heard about this contest, but I felt that it would have been a great opportunity to increase my knowledge about China's fascinating language and culture. In hindsight, I firmly believe that it was worth it.

The Chinese Bridge Competition provides a platform for students to improve and display their Chinese language skills, and share experience in learning Chinese. When my friends and I accepted to take part in this contest, we were so full of excitement and motivation. At that time, we had just come back from our first trip to China and we were eager to engage in a new stimulating adventure. It took us two months to prepare for the competition. Fortunately, the Confucius Institute, Istituto Confucio provided us with a very patient Chinese teacher, who helped us write our speech, correct our pronunciation, choose the most suitable artistic performance, and deepen our knowledge in contemporary China and Chinese culture.

It was definitively not easy, very challenging and even frustrating in the beginning. For example, for me, Chinese tones had always been a nightmare. I had to study hard, repeat my speech over and over, and carefully listen to my teacher in order to master the tones. But all this effort was absolutely rewarding. Two months later, my pronunciation had improved incredibly and I was eventually awarded the third prize in the competition. I couldn't believe it!

The following year, the Confucius Institute provided me with a scholarship to study in Beijing for a semester. It was not my first time in China, but spending an extended period in this intriguing country is always a life-changing experience. It is not only academically satisfying, but also culturally fulfilling. It's an opportunity to enter the depth of Chinese culture, marvel at the astonishing art and architecture, taste local food, take part in Chinese traditional festivals and get to know local people.

What surprised me the most was the way Chinese people looked at foreigners. Although nowadays Beijing has become a vibrant international city hosting people from all over the world, sometimes I felt like and outsider. Along the streets or on public transportations, I found that my Western look attracted some smiles or comments and raised a few puzzled eyes. Chinese people are often stereotyped as being closed-off, wary of non-nationals and unwilling to bond with them. This however couldn't be further from the truth. Through this experience, I found Chinese people to be very welcoming, friendly, extremely curious and particularly interested in non-nationals. Chinese people that I met on the streets or in restaurants would ask me questions, and then start random conversations with me. They appreciate our effort to learn their language and consider it as a sign of respect for their values and their long-lasting culture.

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Elena, middle   

Travelling to China was eye opening, extremely fascinating and fulfilling. I realized that mutual respect is paramount to build a bridge of communication between two different cultures. I learned to appreciate and tolerate differences, I was challenged by common stereotypes about China and discovered a colorful and wonderful country where I wish I will go back soon or later.

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