Introducing China to Chileans
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2023-07-21  ·   Source: NO.30 JULY 27, 2023
Andrea Mella in a restaurant in Beijing during her filming of the Chinese Culinary Art program (COURTESY PHOTO)

From television presenter of culture news, to blogger and teacher, Andrea Mella's different professional roles have given her a deeper knowledge of China and its culture, while at the same time helping to foster cooperation between China and Latin America.

Fond memories 

Mella has gained a keen understanding of China by living in the country.

"I miss my everyday life in Beijing so much: friends and meetings at Annie's Italian Restaurant, going to the Forbidden City, walking safely, eating Beijing duck," Mella said from Santiago, capital of Chile, where she currently lives.

Although five years have passed since she left Beijing, she continues to be closely linked to China, and many memories rush to mind when she recalls the nine years she spent in the country.

For the young Chilean, it all began from a course—The Asia Pacific—that she took at university. The course was the initial kick that led her to develop an interest in the region, and more specifically in China.

Like many people, she followed her interest to China to study standard Chinese thanks to a scholarship, arriving without an idea of the city where she would live or what the future would hold.

Shortly after arriving, she realized that one year—the duration of the scholarship—was not going to be enough to delve into China's culture and the language. For this reason, she began looking for ways to stay longer in Beijing. "2010 was a year of searching as I tried to land a job in China," she said. As a historian, Mella says that her job options in China were limited, which is why she initially focused on teaching languages, while exploring new opportunities related to tourism. 

A stroke of luck came her way the following year. "I started working at the Spanish channel of China Central Television in 2011, initially as a language proofreading specialist, but later it also included camera work," she explained. The four years at the state broadcaster were a great learning opportunity for Mella, both professionally and personally. She participated in three television shows—Chinese Culinary Art, Touring China and Learning Chinese—which allowed her to travel extensively across the country and into the kitchens of restaurants that she would never have been able to experience otherwise. 

After her time on television, Mella decided to specialize in tourism, so she went back to studying Chinese to prepare for her second master's degree. In the meantime, the opportunity to work in the Culture and Press Office of the Chilean Embassy in Beijing arose. She took this new job in China, where she also created a blog called EnBeijing, in which she shared basic information for those who visited the city, but which later also introduced Beijing to Spanish-speaking expats through free tours and other activities.

She believes that her transition through various roles and jobs in Beijing has yielded her a better and better understanding of the city and the country.

Continuous cooperation 

Since Mella's return to Chile, she has worked first as cultural coordinator for the Regional Center of Confucius Institutes for Latin America and the Caribbean and now also as regional coordinator for the Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC), under the Ministry of Education of China. In this role, she has developed projects related to the spreading of standard Chinese in the region, the training of teachers and the organization of writers and filmmakers.

Since the founding of the CLEC, it has been dedicated to teaching Chinese classes adapted to different contexts, including telecommunications, renewable energy, agriculture and contemporary Chinese fashion. As she explained, one of the most challenging and, at the same time, interesting things is to recognize the needs of the public, in order to reach out to as many people as possible with a broader linguistic and cultural offer.

But Mella's working life does not end there, as she also teaches standard Chinese at schools, universities, and even companies. The progress that has been made in standard Chinese teaching in Chile is gigantic, she said, citing her own experience. When she began studying the language in 2007, the first Confucius Institute in Chile was just beginning to offer its first classes. Today, however, there is a wide range of schedules, courses, cultural workshops and scholarship options. "I feel that as a Chilean, I can motivate the new generations to study the language and culture through my own experience," she said.

Even so, she believes that there is a long way to go. In her daily life she meets many language students, but one of the main challenges lies in bringing the cultures closer together.

Mella pointed out that in Chile, although there is a need for professionals specializing in China, there is still a lack of interest in studying the Chinese language. "Most of my students are involved in disciplines such as martial arts or traditional Chinese medicine, or are working in Chinese companies, but I would like to see more interest in [studying the language of] what is one of the major powers in our world today. It can also be useful in the workplace," she said.

For this reason, she has worked tirelessly to do her part. Together with Nicolás Escaffi, who also lived in China for more than 10 years, she founded the Association of Professional Friends of China. Mella said commercial exchange is becoming increasingly important, and there are more and more Chinese companies in Chile, generating an increased need for professionals familiar with the language, culture and other aspects of China.

"The Association of Professional Friends of China was born precisely among those of us who have lived and specialized in China, and who wish to contribute to this exchange in our fields," she said. Within this framework, the foundation aims to "create contact networks between professionals and thus be able to improve cooperation and mutual learning," she added.

Because of her strong link with the country, Mella believes she may one day return to China to undertake a new project. "My experience with China has been a constant surprise, so I think you never know what might come," she concluded.

(Print Edition Title: Bridging Cultures) 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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