In fluent Greek, a Chinese student at the National University of Athens introduced himself as Andreas, a very popular Greek name which can be easily remembered by any Greek.
Andreas, or 22-year-old Song Xunhui as is his Chinese name, is one of the 23 Chinese students who are studying in the National University of Athens.
From Beijing Foreign Studies University, they are the first ever group of Chinese students in the National University of Athens to learn the Greek language, history and culture as part of joint efforts of Greece and China in recent years to bring the two peoples closer.
During a class break in the Modern Greek Language Teaching Centre of the university campus, the 23 Chinese students spoke to Xinhua in fluent Greek about their life in Greece and their aspiration to help further strengthen bilateral ties in the future as ambassadors of Sino-Greek friendship and collaboration in all sectors.
Song is one of them. Although he is a new student to the National University of Athens, he is not new to Greece.
Two years ago, back home, when he packed his suitcase to travel to Greece with his 22 classmates to learn Greek, after studying English, he did not speak a word.
“Before arriving in Greece I did not know Greek at all... The truth is it is a very difficult language in my opinion, but we are doing well,” he told Xinhua.
After a few months at the University of Ioannina in western Greece and two months of courses in Athens, his command of the language is impressive.
Their teacher Viviana Tzovara is impressed with their hard work. Andreas, Iliana, Costas along with the other Chinese students are always eager to learn as much as possible about Greece, a country boasting glorious ancient history like their motherland China.
“There are certainly similarities, many similarities. For example, both in China and here we pay great attention to families. Also, we say that Chinese people are hospitable, so are you,” Song said.
But in addition to the history, ancient Greek philosophy and art, the Chinese students find that the modern Greece is also very attractive.
“We came to find the truth...Now we can have a correct opinion on Greek people,” Jinyao Wang or Costas told Xinhua, referring to the negative stereotypes of the “lazy Greek who is to blame for the debt crisis.”
“I feel great honor being here in Greece for studies and acting, let's say, as a bridge... I will tell my parents and my friends that Greek people are very good and hospitable” he said. “It is very important to strengthen students and programs exchanges.”
Eleni Karamalegou, dean of the School of Philosophy of the Athens University and President of the Interdepartmental Committee which oversees the function of the Modern Greek Language Teaching Centre, could not agree more.
The Greek professor, her colleagues and the 20,000 Greek students of the Philosophy School have warmly embraced the first group of Chinese students arriving at the Athens University with scholarships under a cooperation agreement reached with the Beijing University. In the past there were only sporadic cases of Chinese nationals who joined the classes, she explained.
Karamalegou strongly believes that through cooperation in the tertiary education new horizons of mutually beneficial cooperation may be created.
“We believe that China represents another great civilization. If we pay closer attention we will see that these two civilizations have some common characteristics which give us the possibility to also seek scientific partnerships in the future,” she said.
The 23 Chinese students who enrolled this autumn are among the about 700 students who will receive certification of the level of knowledge of Modern Greek next summer.
“They are given a comprehensive view of Greece, the modern Greece, as well as the historical Greece, and I believe that this is good,” Karamalegou said.
“It is a unique experience for a student having the chance to learn about subjects he/ she is interested in regarding the European civilization and the Greek civilization in a country where this civilization was born and developed. [It is a unique experience] being close to the monuments, having the opportunity to visit them and practice on site,” she noted.
Following the successful cooperation with the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the National Athens University is exploring opportunities to expand and deepen ties with more Chinese universities. [Xinhua]