Three Chinese Professors at Sabaragamuwa University | Sunday Observer

Three Chinese Professors at Sabaragamuwa University

18 July, 2021
Professor Chen CaiLan showing the art of Chinese tea
Professor Chen CaiLan showing the art of Chinese tea

The colourful diesel train ride in the mountains of Sri Lanka is a unique experience, rumbling through the swaying forests and tea plantations and escaping from the hustle and bustle of cities. A few hours later, you come to the Sabaragamuwa Province. They say it is named after its former indigenous inhabitants ‘Sabara’. Sabaragamuwa University is located in the southern foothills of the Central Mountains. If you overlook it from the air, it is like a beautiful and tranquil paradise.

The Sabaragamuwa University is one of the only two universities in Sri Lanka that offer Chinese language major for undergraduate students, under the Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages. The Chinese major was established in 2007, and the Confucius classroom opened in 2019. Now there are three Chinese Professors teaching there.

Professor Cheng Cailan taught Chinese at the Sabaragamuwa University from 2015 to 2016. She was alone during that time, or to be more accurate, lonely. Although the campus is beautiful and with wild attractiveness, mental loneliness was still a huge test of will for this woman.

Feeling homesick

Other teachers and employees lived off the campus. Most of them lived in towns far away. When weekends or holidays arrived, she almost became the only human being in the entire campus accommodation area. At nights, she was not sure if any security guards were working, for not daring to go out and taking a look.

She was not that strong as she had imagined: “I was scared. I felt like being isolated.”

During the Sinhala and Tamil New Year holidays, she used to stay alone in the accommodation and did not move the door latch for a whole week. Homesickness was the most painful taste. Once without awareness, she touched her home key in her hand bag, then bursting into tears.

Responsibility was the best healing. Thinking of her mission, she put all her energy into work. On one hand Professor Cheng adjusted the course content, prepared the teaching plan and searched materials, at the same time, she worked closely with two young local teachers and trained them. She also used her spare time to organise cultural activities to help local teachers to understand Chinese culture better. These laid a good foundation for the establishment of the Confucius classroom.

Since the establishment of the Confucius classroom, Huanggang Normal University in China has sent two more Professors, and the condition fundamentally improved, and Professor Cheng was no longer alone.

Becoming a test centre

Currently, more than 200 students learn different Chinese courses in the Sabaragamuwa University. It is worth mentioning that Sabaragamuwa University has become a Chinese HSK and HSKK test centre.

Once when central and southern regions students plan to take the Chinese proficiency test, they would need three days to travel to and from the test center in Colombo. Zheng Youjie, the Chinese Dean of the Confucius classroom at Sabaragamuwa University, felt he must do something when he saw students travelling long distances. He said: “Their physical and mental state would also affect their test performance.” He thought it would be great if a Chinese HSK and HSKK test center could be set up at Sabaragamuwa University.

Dean Zheng Youjie and his student

There were many difficulties. Standards for the establishment of the test centre were impossible to meet. For example, there should be at least 300 test appliers each year, a safety room to keep the test papers, qualified test personnel, and independent servers and computers network. “Except for that three of us Chinese teachers have obtained the qualifications, other requirements we could not meet,” he said.

“During the International Chinese Education Conference in Changsha, I presented the enthusiasm of our students, and the significance of the establishment of a test center in Sabaragamuwa University. Finally, the leaders of Chinese Test International were deeply touched by students’ passion. With the great support from Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences and Languages, the Sabaragamuwa University, we were officially declared as a Chinese Proficiency Test Center for two years of trial operation.”

Our students and Chinese

Until now, the Test Centre of the Sabaragamuwa University has held four exams, with more than 170 participants. During the pandemic, it has provids great convenience for people who are in urgent need of Chinese language certificates.

Professor Yang Li spoke highly of her students. She said that Sri Lankan students are passionate, creative and imaginative. “The new generation are good at using social media also. They love to share interesting things with me.” She felt very proud of her students and treat them as friends.

Professor Yang Li with her students

The Confucius classroom, the Sabaragamuwa University achieved good ranks at the recent 20th Chinese Bridge Competition (Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students) in Sri Lanka.

Their student Randunuge S. won the first place in the speech part, and Jayawardhana Sachinika won the second in the writing part. Jayawardhana Sachinika also ranked sixth in the whole completion.

Amy Yang, an author and blogger lives in Colombo and writes about Sri Lanka mostly in the Chinese Language, with seven books published and more than million followers in China.