For many people who want to go to China, “What is China like?” is a common question.
Madagascar-born Boba Tahiry says how you experience China will depend on you!
Educated in the paradise country of Madagascar, Boba is a naturally curious soul. She says being taught in a very “western” way drove her to seek and explore other parts of the world, and she happened to end up in China.
At first glance, you can see a very carefree and spontaneous lady. But behind her unassuming aura and contagious laugh is a smart woman who has a lot of opinions about China.
Saina: Hi, please introduce yourself and can you tell us why you came to China and study the language?
Boba: Hi, my name is Boba. I’m from Madagascar and I came here seven years ago. I have a Ph.D. in law and a background in Public Law.
Back home, we were taught very Western so I wanted to know more about what’s happening on the other side of the world. This is why I came to China.
Saina: What is China like and how are you doing here?
Boba: I love it here, but at the same time, I also miss home. China made me experience a lot of things.
I also met different types of people from all over the world. Some are nice, and others are not so nice. I’ve experienced both good and bad in China.
Saina: Can you tell us more about your master’s degree?
Boba: I did my master’s at the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). I did the master’s degree in English for four years and I proceeded with my Ph.D., which I am finalizing now. My Ph.D. is in international law, specializing in humanitarian law.
Saina: How’re your studies?
Boba: I have to say that when I first came here, my English wasn’t good, neither was my Chinese. It was a little bit of a struggle, but the more you meet people, the more you interact and communicate. It became easier for me throughout the years.
My supervisor now is very helpful in my research. It’s a good thing that I have the help of my professors who have experience and can give advice when it comes to my research.
Saina: How did you find your program now?
Boba: I checked online, and Richard from China Admissions helped me. Well, I contacted the university first and Richard reached out to me.
Saina: Were you in Madagascar during this time?
Boba: Yes, I was in my home country. Richard and I communicated via email, he helped me with my application and all my documents. That’s how I came here.
Saina: Do you have a job experience here?
Boba: Yes, I worked in a law firm. I also taught French, but I would say my experience in the law firm was more hectic.
I was working in the French department, communicating with other law firms or French companies. So, I was the one who teamed up with the French investors.
It was a good experience, but it was only short. I worked in a law firm for only six months.
Saina: Was it an internship?
Boba: Yes, it was an internship.
Saina: Were you thinking of staying long in the law firm?
Boba: To be honest, we didn’t have many clients so we didn’t have lots of workloads. The company has a base in Mongolia, so there are plenty of clients from Mongolia.
We also have clients from Africa but we still didn’t have much to do. They had to cut some workers, but they asked me to come back a little later. However, I wasn’t available anymore.
Saina: What do you love about China?
Boba: As I said before, I have many friends from different countries. We’ve traveled to many places and I’ve seen many sceneries. China is so big so you can see everything – from deserts to beaches.
China is beautiful, and the history of the country is interesting to know.
It’s also very modern. Life here is so easy, such as making payments because we use WeChat and Alipay. Calling a cab, and going around is also easy compared to other countries. This is one thing I love about China.
Besides this, I feel very secure here. The security is tight, you can even go out at 3 a.m. and no one will harm you. It’s very safe.
Saina: I feel the same way. What are your future plans?
Boba: For now, I want to finish my Ph.D. program because I want to have a career in the academe. I’m not sure, maybe I won’t be here in here in the future. I will definitely miss this place.
Saina: What opportunities have you had from studying China?
Boba: First of all, the Chinese language is such an advantage. When I came here, I only spoke two languages, but now I speak four. That’s a pretty huge improvement.
The second one is China’s economy. It’s developing fast, I think it’s the second-fastest growing economy in the world? My field is in humanitarian law, and China’s international law has veto power. This is helpful in my research.
Saina: Do people from your country have misconceptions about China?
Boba: Yes, the most common is that things are fake here. But this is a common misconception in most countries. Another one is that China isn’t that progressive yet. People don’t realize how fast it is changing and its economy is becoming stronger.
A lot of people still think China is a third world country when it’s not. If you compare other cities to Beijing, you can see a big difference. Beijing is technologically advanced and it’s getting bigger every day. I think that’s why the United States is threatened.
Saina: What did you think about Chinese people or China before you came here?
Boba: I assumed all Chinese people do Kung Fu. Just kidding! I thought it was very restricted like all your movements were controlled here. China has censorship and I happen to agree that some things really have to be censored.
However, I also have my own opinions which have changed over the years. I think the government is very efficient in running the country. An example is about Beijing’s pollution. Before you can’t see the sky but now, you can see the sky every day. That’s how effective the government here is, and it’s very impressive to me.
Saina: I agree. You have to be here for years to see the difference and changes. Like you, you’ve been here for seven years.
Boba: Yes, I can say that China is really changing. Like the streets, it’s getting cleaner and cleaner by the day. Even people’s behavior is changing, in front of my eyes.
Saina: What are some challenges you faced in China?
Boba: First is the language, if you don’t speak Chinese, communication is hard. Second is the cultural differences. Even after being here for years, I still feel like a foreigner.
When I went to France, I felt French, but here it’s different. No matter how long you stay here, I guess there’s always going to be feeling of being a foreigner.
Saina: Do you have any advice to others who want to come to China?
Boba: Always be open. Don’t get angry too fast. The cultural difference in China is a big thing. If you’re not open enough, you may struggle in here. It will also be hard for people who want to stick with their culture. Flexibility is very important.
You can learn many things in China. It has a rich culture, traditions, and even politics is a bit different.
Saina: Do you have plans to go back to Madagascar?
Boba: For sure, home is home. In my stay here, I would go home twice a year, except in my first two years. I was mesmerized by China. It was a new culture, new friends, and new everything. I traveled a lot, so instead of going home, I was here for two years.
The longer I stay here, the more I miss home so I went home. For now, I would like to try the west first. I don’t really know yet, but for sure I will end up home.
Saina: Are you open to working in China?
Boba: That will depend on the opportunities that I will have here. For me, opportunities are made, they don’t just come. You need to work hard for them.
In China, when you look for opportunities, you can find them. That’s how it works here.
Also, you need to have a strong network of people. You have to know people who can give you a job.
Saina: How are your classmates in here?
Boba: My classmates are all foreigners like me. It’s an advantage because we have the same thing in common, so we can easily connect. However, it’s also a disadvantage because it refrains us from meeting Chinese people. We band together, so it’s kind of hard to meet local people.
It was difficult for me to meet Chinese friends. However, as the years went by, you meet one, and then two and you have more and more!
Saina: In your master’s degree, you had no Chinese classmates?
Boba: No, we were all foreigners. We have one Chinese classmate, she was born here but was raised in Canada and has Canadian citizenship. She spoke good Mandarin.
Saina: You studied Mandarin as well, right?
Boba: Yes, I did. But the classes were not as intensive, I took three months of Chinese classes. The rest of my Chinese, I just picked up along the way.
I have a few Chinese friends who also helped me with the language. I also used apps for learning, like to auto-read and auto-write. It helped me a lot because, after a year, I could text Chinese.
Saina: Can you speak fluent Chinese now?
Boba: I can speak Chinese in a conversation. However, if I do my research in Chinese, I’d say it’s impossible.
Saina: What can you say about China?
Boba: China is different than in other countries. When you come here, it can be surprising. A lot of people have apprehensions about the country because of mainstream media. It was also closed for a very long time.
People have a stereotype of what China is and how life is here. You can’t really know the “real” China if you don’t come here. If you don’t experience the country first hand, you will not know how great or not great it is.
How your life goes in China depends on you. My experience here taught me many things and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything else.
Thanks, Boba. It was a pleasure having you and we enjoyed the conversation. We wish you the best of luck!
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