In Athens, Chinese students revel in all things Greek
In fluent Greek, a Chinese student at the National University of Athens introduces himself as Andreas, a popular Greek name and one that can be easily remembered by any local.
Andreas, or Song Xunhui by his Chinese name, is one of 23 Chinese students who are studying at the National University of Athens.
Hailing from Beijing Foreign Studies University, they are the first ever group of Chinese students attending the Athens university to learn the Greek language, history and culture as part of the joint efforts by Greece and China to build closer cultural relations in recent years.
During a class break at the Modern Greek Language Teaching Center at the university campus, the Chinese students discuss their lives there in fluent Greek.
Although a new student there, Song, 22, is not new to Greece. After studying English two years ago, he packed his suitcase to travel to Greece with his classmates to learn Greek, but he could not speak a word of it. "It's a difficult language, but we are doing well," says Song, who studied Greek at the University of Ioannina in western Greece and in Athens.
Besides ancient Greek history, philosophy and art, the Chinese students also find the modern Greece attractive.
"We came to find the truth.... Now we can have the correct opinion about Greek people," says Wang Jinyao, referring to the negative stereotypes blaming Greeks for the debt crisis.
"I feel it's a great honor to be here in Greece to live and study. I will tell my parents and friends that Greek people are good and hospitable.
"It is important to strengthen student and program exchanges," Wang says.
Eleni Karamalegou, dean of the School of Philosophy of the Athens university and president of the Interdepartmental Committee, which oversees the running of the Modern Greek Language Teaching Center, could not agree more.
The Greek professor, her colleagues and the 20,000 Greek students at the philosophy school gave the first group of Chinese students a warm welcome when they arrived at the university with scholarships awarded under a cooperation agreement reached with the Beijing university.
In the past there were only a few instances where Chinese nationals attended class there, she explains.
Karamalegou believes that through cooperation in tertiary education new channels of mutually beneficial cooperation will be created.
"We believe that China represents another great civilization. If we pay closer attention we will see that these two civilizations have common characteristics which will make it possible to build scientific partnerships in the future," the dean says.
The Chinese students are among the 700 or so students who will receive certification in Modern Greek Studies next summer.
"They are given a comprehensive view of Greece, including modern Greece and Greek history," Karamalegou says.
"It's a unique experience for a student having the chance to learn about subjects he or she is interested in regarding European and Greek civilizations in a country where the civilization was born and developed. It's a unique experience to live close to many historic monuments, and visit them and practice on site," she notes.
Following its successful cooperation with the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the National University of Athens is exploring more opportunities to expand and deepen ties with other Chinese universities.