M A N D A R I N   S U P E R S T A R

Wesley Harfield

Peking University, China

Age: 24

From: Auckland

Proficiency: HSK6 Fluency 

Wesley first took up Mandarin in 2014 when he visited Shanghai as a representative of The University of Auckland to attend a research seminar at Jiao Tong University.

Falling in love with the language and culture, Wesley began teaching himself Mandarin with online resources before enrolling in classes the the University of Auckland Chinese Language Department. 

Following two summers on exchange in Taiwan and numerous other global experiences, Wesley is currently studying his master's degree in economics at Peking University in Beijing. 

When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?  

I started learning Chinese at the end of 2014 after being very fortunate to have been selected to represent The University of Auckland at a research seminar at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China in July 2014. It was my first visit to China and I was absolutely blown away by Shanghai. The city is so huge and bustling and I had never experienced something like that before. I really wanted to return to Shanghai and explore more of China and this is what started my motivation for learning Mandarin.  

Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? 

In the beginning I started off self-learning for a few months utilising the vast amount of resources online. Then after spending the 2014/2015 NZ summer vacation living in Taiwan, participating in the AIESEC international volunteer program, I decided to take some classes at the University of Auckland Chinese Language department on the side of my conjoint-degree. Then during the 2015/2016 NZ summer vacation I completed a summer exchange program at National Sun Yat-sen University (國立中山大學) under a Taiwanese government scholarship. Following that I continued to take courses at the UOA Chinese Language department as well as preparing for the HSK exams (汉语水平考试) during my final year of undergraduate. Some good results here gave me an opportunity to spend a year at Fudan University in China after I completed my undergraduate degree where I was funded by the NZ-China Scholarship. 


All the experiences in the past have contributed to my current situation where I am completing my master’s degree in economics at Peking University under a scholarship provided by Robin Li (the founder of Baidu 百度). 


What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience? 

I think the most rewarding part of all these experiences has been getting to meet so many amazing people and seeing my Mandarin continue to improve over time. Mandarin is definitely a language where you need to invest a lot of time into so when you find yourself having a fluent conversation with random Chinese people on the street it’s a really great feeling.  


What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?   

There have been so many funded education opportunities which opened up after I started learning Mandarin. There is definitely a big push from China to get more international students into Chinese universities and if you can speak Mandarin this opens up so many doors to do research and learn in China.  

There have also been lots of job opportunities that have come up where I was able to combine my understanding of New Zealand/Western cultures and my Mandarin ability to assist companies with some international projects. There is definitely a great demand for people with cross-cultural communication ability skills.  

What do you like most about Chinese culture? 

I really enjoy how China has so many different celebrations/holidays all of which have special traditions and customs which have been practiced for thousands of years. For example, two of my favourite festivals are the mid-autumn festival when the moon is really full and bright and you can eat lots of moon cakes. And also, the dragon boat festival where you can eat a special type of triangle-shaped dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves called 粽子 (zòngzi), and can also participate in dragon boat racing competitions. 

What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?  

I think Kiwi culture tends to be a lot more laidback and we see a lot of the ‘she’ll be right’ type of attitude to a lot of things including education and work. But I think in China where there can be a lot of pressure to do well in society, people are very hardworking and they know they must try hard to do well for themselves. I think the stress levels of the average Chinese will be greater than the average Kiwi and even when you see Chinese celebrating a tradition they will always try to make things perfect.  

Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for those thinking of taking up the language? 

I think learning Chinese opens up so many doors for education, work and making new friends. Learning Chinese also really helps you to understand more about other cultures and lets you see a side of the of the world that you probably wouldn’t have envisioned before.  The biggest tip I can give is try to use technology to make your learning more efficient. There are so many amazing resources online and mobile apps which can speed up the learning process and also make it much more enjoyable.