During this year's Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell on Oct 1, Pronkina Olga, 34, at the time a teacher at Lanzhou City University, showed her overseas students how to make moon cakes.
"We make traditional Chinese food during traditional festivals. Students have a strong interest in such activities since they enable them to approach traditional culture which they have never seen before in their own countries," says Olga, who tried to help the students get used to their life in China.
Living in China for 11 years, the Russian woman has got used to her life here and could share her experience with overseas students as their head teacher.
Her engagement with China started in 2006 when she met her future husband at Penza State University in Russia. She was a postgraduate student majoring in business administration, and decided to marry him and come to China with him after their graduation in 2009.
The very first challenge posed for her after arriving in China was language. She initially found it difficult even to go shopping by herself. So she attended a training course, and started to learn Chinese under the guidance of the teachers and her husband.
In 2010, she was recruited by LCU to work as a Russian teacher, and had to finish the course and continue to learn by herself in her spare time. "Every day when I finished lunch, I went to my office and learned Chinese for two and a half hours. Nine months later, I passed the level-3 HSK exam, the middle level in the country's six-level language proficiency test, which means the language user can complete basic tasks in life and work.
"Learning Chinese was quite difficult for me, but I also got to know the profound history behind the language. Although Chinese has changed over the years, like characters are simplified in written form, basically it was passed down from ancient times. I think that is really great," says Olga.
Later, she continued to learn and passed the level-4 and level-5 HSK exam, and began to work as an interpreter for many activities. In 2016, she did some translation work related to Dunhuang's culture for the overseas affairs office of the Gansu provincial government, and visited the Mogao Grottoes many times. She not only worked well and was conferred to as an "outstanding individual" of Gansu's Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo, but also began to grow an interest in Dunhuang's culture and wanted to study it.
In 2019, she was enrolled to pursue her doctorate in Dunhuang studies at Lanzhou University. "Studying Dunhuang is quite difficult for me. Basically, it requires a higher level of Chinese since I find the language I use in academic study is much more difficult than that in daily life. But I really like the rich culture and history of Dunhuang and want to know more about it."
Over the years, she translated many books about Chinese culture and history into Russian, and won the 2019 Dunhuang Award, an award to honor foreigners who make outstanding contributions to China from the government of Gansu.
She also became interested in Chinese folk arts, and tried to understand the culture behind them. In 2012, she met a Chinese kung fu teacher at work, studied with him and took part in some competitions.
"All the members in my kung fu teacher's family, old or young, male or female, learn Chinese kung fu. It impressed me and made me realize the importance of keeping healthy. My teacher's father said, if everyone is healthy, their family will be healthy, and the whole society, and even the country will be healthy. I totally agree with him and try to do more exercise like kung fu to keep healthy."
She also learned paper-cutting. "I used to see the paper-cuttings pasted on windows, but didn't know why. Now I know they not only decorate the house, but are also used to ward off evil spirits. The more I learn the folk arts, the more I get to know the cultural connotations behind them."
When her knowledge of China reached a higher level, she started to give lectures about Chinese culture to overseas students at LCU and tutored them to pass HSK exam. She also worked as head teacher of the students, helping them with their life in China.
"Since they come from different countries, even if they are learning Chinese, they still have difficulty communicating with Chinese people without proper understanding of them. So I try to explain China's situations, make sure they get used to their life in China without missing their hometowns too much," says Olga.
She won the hearts of her students. During Olga's birthday last year, her students invited her husband and children and made a video together for her, which moved her very much.
Salenko Iryna, one of her students from Ukraine, says: "She's a kind and hardworking teacher who treats all her students in a fair way without any prejudice. She would always help us in and out of school. As a student in a foreign country, she is very important for me, just like my mother in China."
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