Nankai University’s “Mr. Diplomat” and “Cambridge Girl”

You have been knowing each other for more than ten years, occasionally you have lunch together, talking about your happy and sad moments. You both have similar experience and friends, you share the same positive values, and one witnesses the growth of the other… Do you have this kind of friend? Chen Kenzhuo and Xie Yushan, two undergraduates (class 2012) from Nankai University’s College of Foreign Languages share this kind of friendship. Both of them were recommended by Chengdu Foreign Language School to Nankai University. After some moments of confusion, dedication to excellence, and hard work, now it is time for them to harvest success: Chen Kenzhuo has been admitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Xie Yushan received an offer from Cambridge University. “Talents!” is the comment of their classmates. “One is ‘Mr. Diplomat’ and the other is ‘Cambridge girl’.” Counsellor Liu Weishuang is very proud of them as well. Their achievements are examples which will enlighten the other students.

Chen Kenzhuo: “Mr. Diplomat” 
“Congratulations! I am so happy to hear this news. I am so proud of you! But I thought you would become a linguist.” This is the message Chen’s thesis tutor, Prof. Sui Yanyan, sent him after hearing the news of his admission to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Actually I really love linguistics, giving it up is a shame. But now that I have a dream, I should insist. I need to take responsibility for my choices.” Gentle and polite as he is, “Mr. Diplomat” talked about his professional goals. He honestly said that at first he was confused about his major: although he was recommended to Nankai University’s College of Foreign Languages, for a long time he misunderstood the goal of his major. He thought languages were just communication tools, rather than a profession. Instead, his initial dream was to be a chemist, to change China and the world by studying graphene.

During his first semester at Nankai University, Chen attended chemistry classes at the College of Chemistry, even if it was not part of his student plan. He insisted in studying chemistry, he wanted to be a “future chemist”. He was so obsessed with chemistry that he decided to change his major during the second term of the first year. Chen was a liberal art student recommended by his high school, so he didn’t take the university entrance examination. For this reason, his wish to change major was not supported by Nankai University. Under such circumstance, Chen was so confused he wrote a letter to President Gong Ke.

“When I entered Nankai University, I found myself not willing to take English as a profession. However, maybe because I was recommended to the university, I couldn’t change my major.” wrote Chen in the letter. “The reason why I chose Nankai was because I thought it was a comprehensive university, which values the cultivation of student’s all-round capabilities. But this is not the university I imagined.”

Surprisingly, this first-grade’s complaint letter received a reply from President Gong Ke. “Kenzhuo, I very much appreciate your interest in chemistry and your efforts in broadening your knowledge.” In the letter, President Gong did not only explain the special policy designed for cultivating specific talents in the field of foreign languages, but also encouraged him to “first of all comprehend your English skills. Then you can improve yourself using English as a profession. You are not only learning a language, but also transferable skills. This is significant in every career.”   

“President Gong’s letter was so sincere it gave me the confidence and the motivation for continuing my major in English.” Chen realized that studying is not the only thing to do at the university: cultivating all-round abilities is also very important. Seeing his friend Xie Yushan study hard every day, Chen started to work hard on both academic major and transferable skills. His goal was to find a better direction for his future development.

What made Chen be certain of his ultimate career goal was the summer social practice he did during the second year. Chen’s hometown is Wanyuan, Sichuan Province, an area with rich tourism resources. Chen and his classmates went there and discussed with the old Red Army soldiers, listening to their battlefield stories. They also met the officials and the people of the village, and had the opportunity to ask them about local, social, and economic development. The team also held a summer camp for the children of the migrant workers, describing the “outside world” to them.

The team lived with the locals. The situation and the climate tortured many volunteers. However, this experience struck Chen, “changing his values”. “We went to the real Chinese countryside. What we saw is the real China. This experience helped me to build a complete impression of China.” Growing up in Chengdu, he did not realize that his hometown was like that. Moreover, the image of his hometown was only a small part of the whole Chinese society. He realized that no matter what job a person makes, he has to fully understand his nation and serve the country. Since his childhood Chen has been reading stories about famous diplomats such as Zhou Enlai, Lin Liyun, and Li Zhaoxing, and he was encouraged to follow these role models. Therefore, he started to look forward to his own diplomatic stage, and he hoped to have the opportunity to serve the country and the society.

When Chen came back from the social practice, he started to pay more attention to social news and study harder. He loves reading. When he was in high school, he had the habit of saving the little money in his pockets to buy books and magazines, like the National Geographic and the Phoenix Weekly. This habit continued also during his university life. He kept reading books and newspapers, and became a reporter at the campus radio. He actively participated in practical programs, improving his writing and academic skills. During summer and winter holidays, Chen took up internships in justice bureaus, TV stations, communities, banks, etc. During the “6th East Asia Games”, he became the swimming protocol officer, practicing his communication skills, his expressions, the etiquette, and so on.

Chen especially expressed his sincere gratitude to his tutor, Prof. Sui Yanyan. “At the beginning, I had problems in studying and catching up with the teachers. She is a very strict tutor, but I want to thank her very much. Her classes are fully delivered in English, I can learn a lot from her.” Chen showed his admiration to this young teacher, who got her Ph.D. degree at Pennsylvania University. He is used to share his ideas with Prof. Sui in different ways. As a result, he chose Prof. Sui as his thesis tutor, even though she is famous for her strictness. 

She is a strict teacher, but she agreed with his request of postponing the thesis defense when she found out that Chen was preparing for an interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She even contacted some experts who could answer to Chen’s questions. Prof. Sui said: “Kenzhuo is clever and hardworking. I hope he will continue to study hard in the future, being modest and composed, and strengthening his skills.” After experiencing constant tribulations, Chen noticed a change. During his first year, he felt blue for a long time just because the counselor criticized him in public, now he became calmer. He knows now: a person must experience frustration, otherwise he will fail the competition against troubles. “This is what my father told me. I agree with him” said Chen.

Xie Yushan: Cambridge Girl

For two years, Xie has been using a photo of King’s College (Cambridge) as phone screen. It was a photo she took during her second year of undergraduate, when she travelled with her family to the UK. Wandering along the bank of River Cam, Xie was amazed by the grand gothic architecture. She hoped to go back there again one day.


Recalling the first time she went to Cambridge, Xie is still excited. She said that she was grateful for that experience. In that moment she started to walk out of the confusion of being a student, and had a clearer understanding of how to plan her university life. “Before going to the university, we had a university entrance examination. But what should we do after that? For a while, we were confused because we did not know what to do.” Many freshmen feel lost after entering the university. It was the same for Chen and Xie, even though they were recommended.

Xie remembers that, because of this confusion, she had a “colorful” first year. “At that time, I did a lot of attempts. Classes, lectures, part-time jobs, student clubs, student affairs… but I failed many times. This leaded to a little motivation in study, imbalanced time arrangements, and normal grades in exams and contests. I was even refused twice by my favorite student club.” These obstacles made the ambitious girl feel self-contemptuous. The turning point was an English debate during her second year. 

When she started the second year, a friend came to her and asked if she wanted to help him to rebuild the “APEX English Debate Club” which was at its low ebb. English style and Chinese style debates are different, because the first one takes the British council as a model. Usually, every debate includes several rounds, and each person must deliver a seven-minute speech. Xie agreed, because she thought that this club could help her English, and, at the same time, it could also give her a chance to understand western political culture and make more friends. 

Thanks to the club, Xie delivered her first debate in English. However, because of her lack of experience and related knowledge, she failed the seven-minute speech: she was able to talk only for three minutes, and then she “walked off the stage mindlessly”.

“Those who performed freely on the stage are so great!” The imperfect debate made Xie think about her situation. She saw the gap and finally found a new direction and motivation. From that moment on, Xie started to read a large amount of English documents. At first, she started to read the materials about the debates’ topics. Later, she expanded her area to world politics, economy, culture, society, etc. She used to get up every morning at 6 and study until 11 PM. She set an everyday “mission list”. After testing her achievements, she used to write a new list for the next day. 

Xie said that her biggest problem in studying English was the pronunciation. “I come from Sichuan Province, so it is really hard for me to differentiate the pronunciation of /n/ and /l/.” As a result, Xie spent more time practicing. She asked her teachers to help her with pronunciation and intonation, then she started to record her speeches, comparing them with the standard pronunciation. She learned and fixed the problems little by little. Eventually, she got the full score (9.0) in the IELTS Speaking test. Her old friend Chen Kenzhuo admires her: “In China there are only a few people who could get a 9.0 in the IELTS Speaking test!” 

Xie is constantly studying, she feel busy, but also enriched and happy. During her third year, she had the opportunity to go on an exchange program in the Southwest University of Wales (Australia) for half a year. It was a high-quality program: the classes were fully delivered in English, and there were one-to-one counselor and excellent students from all over the world. This opportunity not only enriched Xie’s professional knowledge and enlightened her scientific research, but also widened her horizon. Therefore, her purpose was certain: she wanted to focus on her major, and refine her professional and academic skills.

Differing from the other students who plan to study abroad, Xie did not send applications to several universities. Her dream was to study at Cambridge, so Xie only applied for Cambridge. She honestly said that this decision was not made because she was confident, but because she was ambitious. “It is because I am an ambitious person that I improved myself in the areas where I lacked of confidence. I believe in my dream.”

Her extraordinary scores and experiences helped Xie to receive an offer from Cambridge University. Now she still makes a “mission list” every day, gets up at 6, and study until the library closes. “At the moment, I’m reading an English book about statistics in linguistic study.” Occasionally, Xie plays guitar. “My father likes to play guitar. He looks awesome when he plays it.” Xie is getting ready to make great achievements at Cambridge next year. She also hopes to have the chance to continue her Ph.D. study at Cambridge after the Master Degree. “I will try my best to get a full scholarship to reduce my parents’ burden” she said.

Reported by Ma Chao

Translated by Shi Yuchen
Proofread by Letizia Vallini

Nankai University

No.38 Tongyan Road, Jinnan District, Tianjin , P.R. China 300350

No.94 Weijin Road,  Nankai District, Tianjin, P.R.China  300071