A Hindi teacher's contribution to cultural exchange
By Wang Ruohan  ·  2024-04-07  ·   Source: NO.15 APRIL 11, 2024
In the halls of Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) on March 14, the captivating voice of an educator filled the classroom. Seamlessly shifting between Hindi, Chinese, and English, he effortlessly held the attention of his Chinese students. His fluency in Chinese was so impeccable that one might easily mistake him for a native speaker. Yet Vikash Kumar Singh is an Indian, who has lived in China for 17 years.

Bonding with China 

Vikash's first encounter with China occurred in 2004. At that time, extensive economic cooperation between China and India caught his eye, sparking an interest in the language. After reading an article proclaiming that learning Chinese could lead to lucrative careers in interpreting or translation, Vikash, intrigued by this prospect, switched his major from mathematics to Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi of India.

"When I started learning Chinese, my primary goal was to secure a good job or earn money. However, as I delved deeper into the language, I developed a keen interest in understanding Chinese people, history, and society," Vikash told Beijing Review.

In 2007, his dedication and hard work were recognized with a scholarship to study International Relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, where he embarked on his master's degree journey. This opportunity marked a new chapter in his life, deepening his connection with China and its people.

After graduating, Vikash worked as an editor at China Radio International and as a Hindi teacher at BFSU. His work allowed him to traverse the length and breadth of China, experiencing its diverse cultures and landscapes. During those years, he visited Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Hunan Province, and Henan Province, witnessing their remarkable development.

One of the most significant changes he observed was in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, where modernization has delivered the same level of infrastructure, convenience and services enjoyed in major cities throughout China. "In the past 10 years, I've found big changes have happened in Urumqi. If you visit cities like Urumqi and Lhasa [capital of Xizang Autonomous Region], you will find they're not very different from metropolitan cities elsewhere in China. The structure and lifestyle of the cities [in west China] are similar to Beijing or Shanghai."

Beyond his professional pursuits, Vikash has also forged deep personal ties with China. He married a Chinese woman and settled in Beijing, raising two lovely children. Last year, he was granted Chinese permanent residency, entitling him to the same privileges as Chinese citizens, including healthcare.

During holidays, Vikash often accompanies his wife to her hometown in Fujian Province, where he participates in the daily lives of his in-laws. He helps with farming activities and documents these enriching experiences on social media. Through these interactions, he has gained a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and traditions, further strengthening his bond with this country that has become his second home.

Vikash Kumar Singh delivers a Hindi class at Beijing Foreign Studies University on March 14 Vikash Kumar Singh at a friend's home in Guizhou Province in 2023 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Bridging cultures 

Drawing from his successful language learning experience, Vikash knows how to assist Chinese students in learning Hindi and overcoming language barriers. He tailors his teaching methods to students' needs. For freshmen and sophomores, Vikash explains concepts in Chinese and English during class to facilitate learning. For juniors and seniors, he conducts classes solely in Hindi to enhance their proficiency.

"If I use Chinese or English, then they will not improve their Hindi language efficiency. For this reason, I use a lot of Hindi, almost interacting with them entirely in Hindi so that they can enhance their language ability."

Moreover, recognizing the introverted nature of many Chinese students, Vikash prefers to interact with them as friends on an equal footing. "I don't want to present myself as a very serious teacher. I interact with them as a friend and encourage them to ask me any question."

Vikash Kumar Singh delivers a Hindi class at Beijing Foreign Studies University on March 14 (ZHANG WEI)

After graduating, these Hindi-learning students will contribute to cultural and economic exchange between China and India, just like Vikash. He mentioned that graduates mainly pursue two career paths: entering multinational companies in both China and India, such as Vivo and Oppo, two of China's tech giants, or joining government departments like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Learning Hindi enables these students to explore numerous opportunities in both countries.

Furthermore, increasing the number of Hindi learners can promote friendly exchange and bridge the gap between the two countries. "Because they are learning Hindi, they can use the language directly to tell Indian people about Chinese society, Chinese politics, and Chinese culture because most people in India don't understand Chinese," Vikash said. 

In addition to teaching, Vikash is involved in translating books. He has participated in translation projects between China and India and has published popular Chinese author Jia Pingwa's masterpiece Qin Qiang.

Furthermore, Vikash plans to translate Confucian classics such as The Great Learning and Doctrine of the Mean to allow Indian students to understand Chinese philosophy and culture. "China and India have a long history of translation, such as translating Rabindranath Tagore's poetry into Chinese, which has been widely circulated. So I'm also translating more books from China to let more people in India know about China. So this is also my main job or responsibility, to convey Chinese cultural messages to my Indian friends," Vikash said.

"Before coming to China, when I was in India, I knew very little about China, and whatever we knew was from a Western perspective. However, over the past 40 years, China has changed significantly and become a prosperous country, ranking as the world's second-largest economy. Therefore, I believe it is my responsibility to tell the truth to my friends," Vikash said.

India and China have a long history of communication, cultural exchange, and economic cooperation. However, due to events like border issues, communication between the two countries halted, leading to misunderstandings.

Vikash believes that language is the main way to bridge this gap between the two countries. 

"As China and India are two of the largest developing countries in the world with huge populations, I think India should learn from China. Because when development comes, some challenges also come. China's experiences offer valuable lessons on effectively navigating these obstacles. From advancements in science, technology, industries, and infrastructure, to various other fields, there is much for India to learn and adapt from China's successes," Vikash concluded.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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