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Record number of UK students visits China under program

Two students from Riverside School in the United Kingdom and a Chinese student show off their handmade poster on July 3 at the Tianjin Normal University in Tianjin. CHINA DAILY

This year's summer camp of the Mandarin Excellence Program kicked off in Beijing last week, with the largest group of students from the United Kingdom visiting China since the program was launched in 2016.

Nearly 1,200 British students from 61 secondary schools are visiting China for 11 days to participate in Chinese language courses and cultural activities. Separate travel groups will visit different parts of the country, covering a total of 10 cities including Beijing and Shanghai.

The Mandarin Excellence Program Intensive Study in China, organized by the Chinese Ministry of Education's Center for Language Education and Cooperation and the British Council, includes an average eight hours of Chinese language learning each week during secondary school years in the UK, as well as a visit to China for students who are in their third year.

Funded by the UK's Department of Education, the program has so far helped about 11,000 British students improve their proficiency in the Chinese language, according to the organizers.

William Bridgett, a student from Tytherington School in Macclesfield, Cheshire, northwestern England, said that one of the key reasons he joined the program was that it promised an opportunity to visit Beijing.

When Bridgett started attending Mandarin classes in the UK, he found that learning the Chinese language was both interesting and enjoyable. "I like the writing part, (which is) probably the most difficult, but I find it really self-fulfilling when I'm able to make a beautiful character or sentence," he said.

The students, who already had a fair impression of China thanks to the program, said that they were nonetheless mesmerized by the sheer scale of the Chinese capital and its stunning architectural treasures.

Asha Sen, a student from Alexandra Park School in London, said that she found China to be "cool" in the textbooks, with the mention of its rich history and culture and many tourist attractions.

She said that learning Mandarin has been challenging for her, but she wants to experience both the Chinese language and culture outside of books.

The visiting students will participate in various activities such as Chinese painting, tea making and local sports to better understand Chinese culture, while learning Mandarin in an immersive environment.

Tom Dearing, principal consultant of the British Council, said the program is expanding and improving every year.

"This year, we have nearly 1,200 pupils coming to China, which is the largest cohort in the program's history," Dearing said in an interview during the opening ceremony of the summer camp at Beijing Language and Culture University.

Unlike previous years, this year's summer camp includes intensive study sessions, he said, adding that the students will meet with business leaders to have a better understanding of how learning the Chinese language can help them in the future.

Dearing said that some participants of the program have already received scholarships to study for a master's degree in China, and "that's only the start", as long-term benefits of the program will be clearly visible when these students embark on their professional careers.

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