Christopher Bullock found himself living on the streets last year, working two jobs and trying to make ends meet. He was a student at Community College of Denver (CCD) and was considering putting his education on hold when the opportunity of a lifetime came to him in the form of an offer for a two-year scholarship from The University of Jinan in Shandong Province, China. The proposition was fitting as Christopher had studied Mandarin as a student at CCD, something he began studying as a whim.
“I originally signed up for the class to satisfy linguistic curiosity,” said Christopher. “The first couple of months were really difficult, but then my mind suddenly snapped into focus and I began to apply myself to the language and writing system.”
While learning Chinese was difficult in the beginning, his professor, Jiansheng Guatney not only provided instruction but plenty of enthusiasm and encouragement which pushed him further than he would have pushed himself.
Professor Guatney suggested that Christopher take advantage of the Confucius Institute, a cultural center on campus where Christopher learned about the Study Abroad Scholarship comprising of a free semester in China.
In order to take advantage of this scholarship, he needed a basic understanding of Mandarin. With the help of Confucius Institute tutors, Christopher was able to pass level two of the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) known in English as the Chinese Proficiency Test. In January of 2014 he found himself bound for his study abroad at East China Normal University in Shanghai.
In China, his Mandarin improved noticeably and he enjoyed learning about Chinese culture first hand and spending time with new friends from all over the world.
“The local students were very welcoming and excited to be language partners and I’ve become close friends with many of the students here,” said Christopher. In addition, he found the Chinese cuisine to be plentiful and enticing.
“To say that I was well-fed would be an understatement,” he said. “Every meal would be considered a luxurious banquet in the United States, a far cry from American Chinese fast-food!”
After he returned to the United States, Jane Lim, director of the Confucius Institute, offered him a work-study position while he continued his studies at CCD. Christopher worked part-time and enrolled in Chinese classes. His Mandarin proficiency increased and co-director of the Confucius Institute, Gang Xu, encouraged Christopher to attend University of Jinan which was Gang Xu’s alma mater. He started by accepting a post as a Confucius Institute Summer Camp team leader and found himself China bound again in June of 2016.
During the summer he had the opportunity to visit many world famous sites in Beijing including the Great Wall, the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City. Christopher also discovered Chinese music, art and physical exercise. His Mandarin continued to improve, and again, Christopher took the HSK test where he passed level four allowing him to enroll in classes directly with Chinese students.
It was during this time that Christopher was offered the life-changing two-year study from the Dean of International Studies at the University of Jinan. Free tuition and board, plus a post as a teacher’s assistant to a professor of English was a dream come true.
At the end of the two-year term, pending successful completion, Christopher will be awarded a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching Chinese to Foreigners. If, at the end of the term, he takes the HSK test and passes level five he will be eligible for generous scholarships from the Chinese government.
“I think that the scope of Mandarin instruction and Chinese cultural education at Community College of Denver is amazing compared to what is offered at more expensive, well-known universities in the area,” he said. “My life has changed in so many ways thanks to this opportunity. I have come a long way from living on the streets to living in China and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me get here.”