Walker Darke is a Sustainable Energy Consultant at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. He is also PhD student in sustainable policy development at Fudan University, China. Previously working for the European Commission, he is also a strong advocate of nurturing diversity and inter-cultural understanding working with organizations such as the Patchwork Foundation, European Guanxi, and FIFA Fan Movement. He undertook a Generation UK scholarship in Jinan, Shandong province in 2016.
On a recent Mandarin Excellence Programme event, Walker Darke talked with thousands of schoolchildren across the UK about his experience learning Chinese and living in China.
I started studying Mandarin as part of the British Council’s Generation UK programme which enabled me to move from Wolverhampton, England to Jinan, China.
Learning languages broadens my horizons.
I was inspired to learn more about the world from watching international events on TV like the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, and the Eurovision Song Contest. Communicating with people from different cultures and points of view helped develop my life skills and critical thinking. I had already studied abroad thanks to the Erasmus+ scheme while I was studying French at university. China seemed a much bigger challenge. There’s so much more that unites us than divides us. China is so big. Chinese is so complicated. Everyone talks so quickly. There were no Walker’s crisps. These were my first impressions. However, students were welcoming, and everyone wanted to help you learn more. Studying hard in Chinese class helped to make local friends. I didn’t know much about Jinan, but friends invited me to watch football and share common interests. It was amazing to see former Manchester United player Marouane Fellaini play for the local team, Shandong Taishan F.C.
There’s so much more that unites us than divides us.
China is so big. Chinese is so complicated. Everyone talks so quickly. These were my first impressions. However, students were welcoming, and everyone wanted to help you learn more. Studying hard in Chinese class helped to make local friends. I didn’t know much about Jinan, but friends invited me to watch football and share common interests. It was amazing to see former Manchester United player Marouane Fellaini play for the local team, Shandong Taishan F.C.
Chinese helped my career development.
After studying in China, I felt so much more confident to apply for bigger and better opportunities. Thanks to the Chinese language skills on my CV, I completed an internship at the European Union in Brussels. It was an exciting time to be in the offices during ‘Brexit’ negotiations. I stayed there for 3 years, working as a social media and web content manager posting on social media pages with over one million followers. Now, I work for the United Nations where I write sustainability policy on behalf of governments all around the world.
There is always a connection to China.
Working in Europe may seem far from China, but China plays an important role in many aspects of society. Chinese investment and business probably made the COVID tests and the phone you use. At the United Nations, it’s extremely helpful to know some of the official languages of the institution. One of them is Chinese (alongside Arabic, English, French, Russian and Spanish). My local football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, is led by a Chinese company and strongly supports the local community.
Chinese isn’t always easy.
My Chinese isn’t perfect, and it may be frustrating practising the tones or the stroke order of characters. I try and study a little bit every day. Applications like Hello Chinese, Pleco, and Duolingo are good places to start. Sometimes it can be a fun to draw the Chinese characters with friends and find the similarities in the languages. In English, we say Italy, in Chinese, they say Yìdàlì (意大利). I’ve never stopped learning, and even now I’m doing a PhD at Fudan University, I still have Chinese language class to avoid misunderstandings!
Chinese enabled me to do amazing things.
Keeping up your Chinese skills is worth it. Some jobs require you to have language skills. The skills I learnt studying languages enable me to live, work and study abroad. I’m extremely grateful to the opportunities that the British Council have given me to empower me to learn languages.