Language barrier is a challenge that impedes cooperation and development in various sectors. In 2017, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who had just finished his official state visit to China, supported the proposal to expand the study of Chinese language in Belarus, citing a shortage of specialists as another obstacle.
Ekaterina Kaligaeva, the Belarus State Chinese Bridge Competition champion in the same year, has been learning Mandarin for almost a decade. However, foreign-language learning is nothing new in her multilingual family. Kaligaeva’s parents speak Russian, Spanish, and German, and they have successful international careers in diplomacy, teaching, and interpretation.
Kaligaeva is planning to take the level 9 HSK Chinese proficiency test, which is the highest level of the test and would qualify her to become an official translator. She shares that her journey started with a challenge proposed by her father, who told her that mastering a language from the East would make him very proud, unlike learning another European language.
Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and Lukashenko, Chinese-Belarusian relations have developed comprehensively, and cooperation in education has brought many results in recent years. In 2022, 40,000 Belarusian youth were studying the Chinese language, which was being taught in 35 schools across Belarus.
Kaligaeva and her twin sister were among the students who took Chinese classes at their local Confucius Institute. Although registering for the classes was easy, maintaining commitment was not. Kaligaeva’s beginner class started with 15 students, but only six learners remained at the end of the year. While the quality of instruction and instructors has improved over the years due to increased popularity of the language among young people, she warns future learners that Chinese learning requires commitment and should not be taken lightly.
Despite the challenges, Kaligaeva finds learning Chinese to be rewarding, as it has opened her up to a culture of 5,000 years. She admires the beauty of the language and the rich cultural heritage it represents.
Language learning is essential for promoting cross-cultural communication and understanding. The Belarus-China partnership demonstrates the importance of education in building strong international relationships. As more people recognize the significance of learning Chinese, it can serve as a bridge for deeper connections and cooperation between nations.
Kaligaeva’s journey of learning Mandarin did not stop at the Confucius Institute. In addition to mastering the language, she also developed a deep connection with Chinese calligraphy, xiangsheng, and traditional outfits. For instance, she has six elegant qipao (cheongsam) which she often wears at events. She believes that the dress is not only a stylish and visually aesthetic clothing item but also has untold stories that are difficult to fully translate without losing some historical, cultural, and philosophical connotations.
Her passion for Chinese culture and language was one of the driving factors that kept her motivated and persistent throughout the early years of tedious exercises in learning the language. Besides falling in love with Chinese culture, Kaligaeva also felt it was important to find ways to practice the language beyond the classroom. Hence, it was an easy decision for her to pursue her undergraduate studies in China.
Kaligaeva describes her decision to study in China as “killing two birds with one stone” and “dreams come true”. She believed that studying journalism and communication science at Tsinghua University would not only accelerate her command of the language but also help her fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a TV host. She is now happy with the platform to tell her stories from the perspective of a Belarusian youth, introduce her country to the Chinese audience, and express her viewpoint on different subjects.
During her studies, Kaligaeva was able to immerse herself in the language and culture, interacting with locals and experiencing different aspects of life in China. She also had the opportunity to participate in cultural exchanges and attend events where she could showcase her language and cultural proficiency. Her experience as a foreign student in China was eye-opening, and she learned a lot about herself and the world around her.
However, studying in China was not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles she faced was the cultural differences. She had to adapt to a different way of life and mindset, which was not always easy. Nevertheless, she persevered and saw these challenges as opportunities for personal growth and development.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Kaligaeva returned to Belarus and began working as a TV host, using her Mandarin skills to communicate with Chinese guests and discuss topics related to China. She also continues to share her love for Chinese culture through social media, where she posts about her experiences and insights.
Kaligaeva’s journey of learning Mandarin not only allowed her to master the language but also developed a deep connection with Chinese culture. Her decision to study in China was a dream come true, and she used the opportunity to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a TV host. Although she faced challenges along the way, she persevered and saw them as opportunities for growth and development. Today, she continues to use her Mandarin skills to connect with Chinese guests and share her love for Chinese culture.
Throughout her time in China, Ekaterina Kaligaeva has not only become fluent in the Chinese language, but has also developed a deep appreciation for Chinese culture. She has been able to develop these connections through her studies at the Confucius Institute, where she learned not only the language, but also traditional calligraphy, xiangsheng, and traditional outfits.
Her love for Chinese culture has motivated Kaligaeva to seek out opportunities to practice her language skills beyond the classroom. As a result, she decided to pursue her undergraduate studies in China, which helped her to accelerate her command of the language and fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a TV host.
Since then, Kaligaeva has taken part in many documentaries and has traveled across the country while filming vlogs to introduce China to her compatriots back home. She finds it difficult to choose her favorite moment among the many media-related appearances she has made, but hosting one of the celebratory events in both Chinese and Russian to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China-Belarus diplomatic relations was a definite highlight for her.
This event, co-organized by the All-China Youth Federation and Belarusian Republican Youth Union in 2022, was attended by the Belarusian Ambassador to China Yuri Senko, as well as officials from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the event, Kaligaeva was able to share her China-Belarus story through a short film, exemplifying the bonds between the two countries.
Kaligaeva also facilitated youth from both countries to share significant achievements through the Belt and Road Initiatives, Confucius Institute and other educational exchange programs that form a foundation for the China-Belarus comprehensive strategic partnership, signed by the leaders of the two countries.
All of these experiences remind Kaligaeva of the progress she has made since becoming the Belarus State Chinese Bridge Competition champion in 2017. She feels a strong sense of responsibility in bridging her home country and China, which she proudly calls her “second home”.
According to Kaligaeva, the bilateral cooperation between China and Belarus is promising and sustainable because it is a “two-way bridge” that creates mutual benefits for both countries. She has also noticed that Chinese institutions are opening in Grodno, Brest and some other cities in Belarus, in addition to the capital Minsk. At the same time, Belarusian research centers are also being opened in various Chinese universities.
Kaligaeva anticipates scientific, creative and technological potential in the future, which will reflect in the social and economic development of both countries. She believes that the joint efforts will continue to gain momentum in the next 30 years and beyond.
Kaligaeva believes that learning about China should not be limited to just the language, but rather should be a lifelong pursuit. This belief led her to delve deeper into Chinese and global politics during her final year at Tsinghua University, where she decided to enroll in the Yenching Academy at Peking University. According to her, the interdisciplinary master’s program in China studies is a window to China for students from all continents, with two-thirds of the cohort coming from diverse backgrounds every year.
Kaligaeva feels that this program provides an excellent opportunity for international scholars to learn more about her home country. Whenever she meets people who are unfamiliar with Belarus, she takes it as an opportunity to spread awareness about her country. She believes that by doing so, stereotypes can be broken and more young people can be motivated to co-create a future filled with diversity.
Graduates of the Yenching Academy are expected to integrate their leadership lessons and experiences into their future careers across various sectors, to become truly global citizens. As a Yenching Scholar, Kaligaeva is most intrigued by China’s political leadership in the region, its ties to the Commonwealth of Independent States, particularly Belarus, and with the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
According to Kaligaeva, five years ago, many young people in Belarus were unaware of the existence of the SCO and paid little attention to international security and development. Instead, Belarus focused more on Russia and its neighbors in the European Union. However, in light of the ongoing global crises, she has learned that more young people now believe that productive cooperation with China and the East in general holds the key to finding solutions for our shared future.
For Kaligaeva, Belarus’ admission as an official SCO member this year would represent an important commitment by the nation. She is excited about the prospect of youth involvement in the SCO, particularly the potential of the higher education network “SCO University” to enhance cultural exchanges, advance academic research, and remove barriers to further promote equitable quality education.
In addition to her studies, Kaligaeva has also taken part in a variety of events such as startup conferences and summer camps. She believes that her Belarusian friends have become more interested in regional initiatives like the SCO and the Belt and Road Initiative because they believe that such initiatives will provide them with tangible benefits and better employment opportunities.
Kaligaeva believes that the China-Belarus comprehensive strategic partnership can bring talent from both countries together to work on common projects to boost the development of high-tech industry and business activities. She cites the example of the China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park, an infrastructure project along the BRI, as an illustration of how bilateral cooperation can create new demands for jobs in high-tech manufacturing such as mechanical engineering, electronics, telecommunication, chemistry, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, new materials, logistics, e-commerce, and big data.
Looking ahead, Kaligaeva says that Belarusian youth pay close attention to the creation of a regional center for Sinology and a hub of China studies, as recently suggested by Lukashenko. She feels that this will take Confucius Institutes and Chinese-language learning to the next level and enable a more comprehensive academic understanding of China’s past, present, and future.
While waiting for the establishment of the regional center, Kaligaeva plans to continue developing her personal and professional networks with other scholars to improve her understanding of diplomacy. She also aims to launch a career that will enable her to serve as a bridge between China and Belarus. As a student ambassador at the Global Communication Office, Tsinghua University, Kaligaeva feels well-equipped to play this role effectively.
Kaligaeva, a student ambassador at Tsinghua University’s Global Communication Office, believes that her Belarusian friends are becoming more interested in regional initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because they believe that they can benefit from these projects in terms of tangible benefits and employment opportunities. She notes that both China and Belarus produce scientists, engineers, and technology workers, and that their partnership can lead to the development of high-tech industry and business activities.
To illustrate the potential of this partnership, Kaligaeva cites the example of the China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park, an infrastructure project along the BRI that will create new demands for jobs in high-tech manufacturing such as mechanical engineering, electronics, telecommunication, chemistry, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, new materials, logistics, e-commerce, and big data. By working together on common projects, China and Belarus can bring their talent to bear on these fields and develop new technologies and products.
Looking to the future, Kaligaeva notes that Belarusian youth are paying close attention to the creation of a regional center for Sinology and a hub of China studies, as suggested by Lukashenko. This center would take Chinese language learning and Confucius Institute to the next level, enabling a more comprehensive academic understanding of China’s past, present, and future. While this process may take time, Kaligaeva is interested in contributing to it by participating.
In the meantime, Kaligaeva plans to continue developing her personal and professional networks with other scholars in order to improve her understanding of diplomacy. She hopes to launch a career that will allow her to serve as a “bridge” between China and Belarus, facilitating communication and cooperation between the two countries.
Kaligaeva believes that the SCO and the BRI have the potential to promote economic development and cultural exchange in the region. She sees these initiatives as a way for countries to work together to address common challenges and create a better future for their citizens. As a student ambassador, she hopes to contribute to this effort by building bridges between different cultures and promoting understanding and cooperation.
In addition to her work as a student ambassador, Kaligaeva is also involved in academic research. She is interested in the field of diplomacy and hopes to develop a deeper understanding of its role in international relations. By studying the history and theory of diplomacy, she hopes to gain insights into how different countries can work together to address global challenges.
Kaligaeva is also interested in the role of technology in diplomacy. She believes that advances in technology can help to promote communication and cooperation between different countries and cultures. She is particularly interested in the potential of new technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence to revolutionize the field of diplomacy.
In her spare time, Kaligaeva enjoys reading and exploring new cultures. She believes that travel is a great way to broaden one’s horizons and learn about different ways of life. She is also passionate about music and enjoys playing the piano in her free time.
Overall, Kaligaeva is optimistic about the future of regional cooperation and believes that China and Belarus can play an important role in promoting economic development and cultural exchange in the region. As a student ambassador and researcher, she hopes to contribute to this effort by building bridges between different cultures and promoting understanding and cooperation.