Table tennis, China and I |
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Table tennis, China and I

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By Nicola Vinati | | Updated: Apr 06, 2023

[Italy] Nicola Vinati, East China University of Science and Technology

Before I came to China, when I heard the word “China,” the first thing that came to my mind was table tennis. The reason for that is, in Italy, I was a table tennis player. I believe that China’s table tennis training system is more advanced than other countries and the Chinese table tennis team is the best in the world, so I was eager to go to China.

One day, I read an online advertisement for a table tennis summer camp in China’s Shanghai, with 20 places available. I felt that was an opportunity, so I signed up. However, the organizer replied to me: No more vacancies, which made me very frustrated. Unexpectedly, a few days later, the organizer informed me that a student had withdrawn for some reason, and the only vacancy would be mine. When I got this news, I jumped three feet high, so lucky am I!

Nicola Vinati [Photo provided to]

In July 2018, I came to China for the first time, which was also the first time I went abroad alone, so my parents were worried. They had never been to China, and their knowledge about China was obtained from Italian media, which was very limited. As a result, their fears turned out to be completely unnecessary. All the participants including me were satisfied with this summer camp in Shanghai, and I also fell in love with this megacity where traditional culture and Shanghai culture are perfectly integrated. Since then, I have developed a strong interest in the Chinese language and Chinese culture. After returning to Italy, I bought a Chinese book and started to study Chinese by myself.

A few months later, I made my mind to study in China, and my parents were very supportive. I applied for the Chinese courses at East China University of Science and Technology because the table tennis team of this university is very professional, and I can receive training while learning Chinese.

East China University of Science and Technology [Photo provided to]

In February 2019, I came to China for the second time. Everything is no longer strange. Life in Shanghai is so convenient. With a mobile phone in hand, you can take the subway, buy commodities, book a restaurant... you can go out without a wallet, but you can’t go without a mobile phone. I quickly got used to eating Chinese food. There are delicacies from all over the country in the university canteens, like xiaolongbao, dumplings, knife-cut noodles, Yunnan rice noodles and so on. Every time I go to the canteens, my mouth became watering when seeing so many kinds of delicious food.

Everything was going well in life, but when I went to class, I was overwhelmed. I was assigned to study in class B, but most of my classmates had studied in class A before, so their Chinese proficiency is higher than mine. For the first week, I only understood a few words, like reading a sealed book. I remember one time in a comprehensive class, the teacher was explaining the examination questions, and I stared at the teacher blankly. He caught my look and asked, “Ni Jiamo, do you understand?” My face blushed and I replied in a low voice, “A little bit.” After class, the teacher explained it to me again, and I finally understood. From then on, I secretly made up my mind that I must catch up with the progress of Chinese learning like playing table tennis! There are four Chinese classes every morning. In the afternoon, I went to the library to study, and in the evening, I went to the gym to receive table tennis training. A few weeks later, a miracle happened: I suddenly realized that I could understand almost all the Chinese lessons! The more I learned, the more motivated I am!

East China University of Science and Technology [Photo provided to]

In my spare time, I made two good Chinese friends who helped me selflessly, and I am very grateful to them. In addition, I also found that many Chinese people’s lifestyles are similar to mine. They study and exercise hard every day and use their time efficiently. What impresses me most is the spirit of teamwork among the Chinese people. Be the teachers who teach me Chinese or the Chinese students in the table tennis team, they would form a team to solve any problem they encountered. It impressed me a lot that unity is strength. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for China’s rapid development in recent years.

After wrapping up my Chinese course in China, I went back to Italy to play table tennis in Milan. The experience of studying in Shanghai has benefited me a lot. Nowadays, I can communicate smoothly with many Chinese table tennis players in Europe, some of them have become good friends of mine. Now when I hear the word “China,” what comes to my mind is not only table tennis, but also delicious foods, smiling faces, and all the precious things that helped me grow...

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).