There is, in Chinese, a concept called yuánfèn (缘分). It refers to the belief that there are facts that come together for something to happen, a kind of predestination in relationships or even affinities. Something like “fate” or “destiny”, but none of these words is, in my opinion, true enough to what yuánfèn represents. This is what I base my relationship with China: A series of unexpected events that led me to get close to the language, the culture, and finally the people of this incredible country.
中文有一个词叫做“缘分”，指的是相信事情会接踵而至，也指命中注定会建立的关系，甚至发展成亲缘关系，类似于英文的 “fate”（命运）或 “destiny”（天命）。但在我看来，这些词都不足以表达“缘分”的真正含义。“缘分”就是我与中国的关系的基石。一系列意想不到的事情让我有机会与这个了不起的国家亲密接触，了解它的语言、文化和人民。
I am Violeta, a Swiss-Mexican Spanish teacher in Shenzhen, and this story is a brief recount of the happenings that have led me to where I am today.
Growing up in a bi-cultural family, my curiosity and sensitivity toward languages were never lacking. However, I never imagined studying Chinese. My Chinese journey began rather sporadically and was born, really, out of a sudden impulse on a lazy afternoon. Looking back on all the things that could have linked me to this mystical country, I attribute it to yuánfèn. I could trace my connection to Chinese back to my childhood, when every birthday I would ask my parents to take me to the only Chinese restaurant in town to celebrate. Or when I pasted the image of my Chinese Zodiac (龍) in my high school yearbook. But I cannot attribute any real merit to these fortuitous events, a reflection of the power of yuánfèn. It wasn’t until college, though, that I learned about China. On a random afternoon, I came across the university’s language course schedule posted on a bulletin board. By process of elimination, because Italian and Portuguese seemed too “simple”, I ended up enrolling in a Chinese course.
Two hours a day, five days a week, our amazing Shanghainese teacher Xu Yiwen sowed the seed of my love for China, its language, and its culture. Towards the end of that year, an amazing opportunity knocked on our doors. An agreement with the Beijing International Studies University (BISU) had been signed and, two students would be selected for a one-year academic exchange. I remember the moment the teacher shared the news with us as if it were yesterday. I can clearly recall how I sprung off my seat and bolted out of the classroom to call my parents and ask them to keep their fingers crossed for me. Out of the blue, a possibility arose that I would never have considered in my wildest dreams: Traveling to China! After a couple of weeks, the excitement wore off and I began to doubt the chances of getting the scholarship. I had no connections (yes, guanxi is a thing in Mexico too). Hence, by the end of the semester, I had given up all hope. I didn’t even submit the paperwork. But yuánfèn did its job. Our lovely teacher applied for me, and I was informed on Valentine’s Day 2009 that I had been awarded the scholarship. I was to travel on March 8th!
每天两小时，每周五天，优秀的上海老师徐一文在我心底播下了热爱中国、中文和中国文化的种子。那年年底，一个意想不到的机会敲开了我们的大门。我们学校与北京第二外国语学院 (BISU) 签署了一项协议，将挑选两名学生进行为期一年的学术交流。老师告诉我们这个消息的那一刻，仿佛就在昨天。我清楚地记得，当时我激动得从座位上蹦起来，冲出教室，给父母打电话，请求他们为我祈祷。一种我做梦都想不到的机会突然摆在我面前：去中国！但几周后，兴奋感消失了，我开始怀疑自己是否能得到这份奖学金。我没有任何“关系”（没错，“关系”在墨西哥也十分重要）可以依赖。学期末，我已经放弃希望，甚至没有提交申请文件。但由于“缘分”的力量，我们可爱的老师替我申请了奖学金。2009 年情人节，我得知奖学金已收入囊中。3 月 8 号，我踏上了前往中国的旅途！
I remember my first impressions of the Northern Capital vividly. I landed at 10 a.m. on a much polluted Sunday morning, with temperatures well below zero. My first images of the city were of people wandering about, throwing out their trash, smoking a cigarette, having breakfast or just strolling around dressed in what looked like pajamas. What a sight! Cultural shock started sinking in little by little. Letrines, strong odors, huge crowds, curious glances, traditional hutongs alongside the much unexpected modernity… and I could go on to name a myriad of fascinating things that took me a while to understand, but which I ended up falling in love with.
我仍清楚地记得北京留给我的第一印象。那是一个周日，上午 10 点，飞机着陆在机场，那天的气温远低于零度，污染严重。我对这座城市的第一印象是人们四处闲逛，倒着垃圾，抽着烟，吃着早餐，穿着睡衣散步。满眼都是我从未见过的景象！异域文化开始一点点地冲击着我。公厕、强烈的气味、庞大的人口、好奇的目光、传统胡同和现代建筑相碰撞……还有许多神奇的事物，我需要花时间去了解，但最终我爱上了这一切。
Beijing was life-changing. Experiencing the four seasons for the first time, sharing day-to-day life with classmates from dozens of different countries, some of which I couldn’t even accurately place on a map. It seemed unreal, like a piece of fiction in the fabric of my life. I fell so deeply in love with my Beijing life that I requested and managed, against all odds, to extend my stay for a second year.
I returned to Mexico in 2012, but a portion of my heart stayed in China. Although busy catching up with college, I found every possible opportunity to practice my Chinese. I ate Chinese food almost every week. I spent my afternoons watching非诚勿扰, I thought about China every day. After graduating, yuánfèn knocked on my door once again. A post on social announced an International company looking for people fluent in Chinese and Spanish. My first thought was, “I am not at all fluent in Chinese”. I had no confidence in my rusty Chinese, but after hesitating for a few days I decided I had nothing to lose (other than 面子) by trying, so I sent my CV without much hope. Within two weeks I received a call. The young man who interviewed me was also a BISU graduate. What are the odds!
I got the job at a Chinese oil drilling company in Southeast Mexico. It wasn’t my French degree that got me a job, it was my two years in Beijing. With this experience, I learned about China from a new perspective: the corporate environment.
I always wanted to pursue a master’s degree, and I always wanted to return to China. What I didn’t know is that I would do both at the same time. I started looking into scholarships. By March 2016, I had sent in my application. Without waiting for the outcome of the university’s selection process, I bought a one-way flight to Beijing and submitted my resignation. My acceptance letter from Nankai University came in two weeks after leaving the company. I was accepted on a full scholarship for three years.
我一直想攻读硕士学位，也一直想回到中国，但没想到这两件事能同时实现。我开始研究如何申请奖学金。2016 年 3 月，我提交了申请。没等录取结果出来，我就买了一张飞往北京的单程机票，并提交了辞呈。离职两周后，我收到了南开大学的录取通知书，获得了三年的全额奖学金。
In August 2016 I landed at the BIA and as I stepped off the plane, it felt like coming home. It is a difficult feeling to describe with words, as if I was escaping one reality to land in another, in an alternate world, a dream that I never stopped dreaming. My arrival in Tianjin felt more like a simple move to a new house than like a transition to a completely different reality on the other side of the planet.
2016 年 8 月，我搭乘的飞机着落于北京国际机场。走下飞机的时候，我感觉就像回到了家。这种感受难以言表，仿佛我逃离现实世界，降落在另一个世界，又仿佛在做一个永远不会醒来的梦。我来到天津，感觉就像搬家一样简单，尽管我是来到地球的另一端，一个完全不同的世界。
This move marked the beginning of the rest of my life. I met my husband online. I never believed in online dating, but was bored and wanted to make new friends. Yuánfèn was working hard, again. We fell for each other pretty quickly. By 2019 we had signed our “little red book” and organized a full-on traditional wedding in rural Hebei. Our marriage has been a trip through the mountains. Moving forward slowly, up and down the hills, but enjoying the marvelous scenery along the way. We are learning from each other day after day, merging our cultures and broadening each other’s understanding of the world.
We are living in Shenzhen since 2020, with two cats and a fish tank. And while we are enjoying life in the hustle and bustle of this ultra-modern city, we look forward to a future back in Mexico. Although we don’t know when, we know that at some point it’s going to be his turn to immerse into my culture and discover where I come from: a tiny little town on the coast of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. We see ourselves strolling on the beach every sunrise with a dog chasing the waves, maybe a couple of toddlers playing in the sand, and our memories of China always present in our morning conversations. Some day, if yuánfèn permits.