When we think of Inner Mongolia, we often picture lush grasslands that go on forever – and let’s not forget the iconic gers and horses. But in fact, there are also bustling modern cities. So what is it like to go to university in a place that has the best of both worlds?
As part of a Hong Kong Scouting Association exchange trip, a group of students from Hong Kong visited Inner Mongolia this summer. There, they had the chance to interact with local university students – both Mongolian and Chinese – and explore the beautiful countryside.
The Inner Mongolia Agricultural University has some interesting courses. For example, it is the only university in the region to offer farming as a degree. Each student on the course gets their own piece of farmland for the duration of their studies.
It also offers a language programme. Yang Jing is in the first year of her four-year English course. The school is a six-hour train ride from her home, so, like many of the students, Yang lives at the university during term time.
“Our day starts at six every morning,” she explains. “My classmates and I gather to recite and memorise specific English vocabulary. Then, we have our mandatory morning exercise, which involves some stretching and running. We must complete all of this before breakfast.”
After breakfast most days, there’s a morning lesson, followed by lunch, an afternoon session, and finally some time for private study.
“I love studying English,” says Yang. “I want to be an English teacher here in Inner Mongolia after I graduate.”
She explains that there is a growing demand to learn the language, and this means more teachers will be required.
Based on her personal experience, Yang says learning it can be difficult.
“We have very little exposure to English before university,” she says. “And it’s very challenging to learn new vocabulary, because our professors are native English speakers who do not speak Putonghua, so everything is explained in English.”
To improve her skills, Yang usually spends her spare time in the library reading English books.
University life in Inner Mongolia is also a chance to get to know your neighbours. Mongolian children go to primary and secondary schools that are taught in Mongolian, and are separated from Chinese students. In university however, Mongolian and Chinese students study side-by-side.
“My Mongolian classmates’ parents are still nomads that live on the grasslands,” says Yang. This way of life means education opportunities are limited from a young age, so Mongolian students have to work extra hard to do well on the national entrance exams.
The university hosts regular Mongolian dance performances, sports days, archery and wrestling competitions for the students, but most of them still make the long journey back to the grasslands at least once a month to help their families take care of the livestock.
Liu Chingka, a Year Three student, is studying railway and transportation operation management – though not by choice.
“My parents chose this subject for me,” she laughs. “If I could choose, I would study English because it is fun to learn.”
For Liu, the greatest challenge is memorising all the transport regulations. Her tip? She reads a section of the rules before morning exercise each day.
Liu is also the marketing director of the school’s student union, and promotes student-led sports activities and other events. This means her days are very hectic – something Hong Kong students will be able to identify with!
University life with Mongolian friends is never dull, as they bring their unique culture into the classroom. Liu explains: “They are excellent singers, and they love to wrestle each other during breaks.”
Liu appreciates the mix of Chinese and Mongolian students in her programme, because she believes it will be important to the industry she’ll probably work in. “The railway needs people who can speak Mongolian to serve Mongolian travellers,” she says.
And Liu hopes to visit our city one day, too. What’s she looking forward to most? “I heard Hong Kong has the most amazing food!”