The Venter couple, Theo and Sanja-Rika, have been teaching English in China for the past two years.

A massive country


Sanja-Rika says China is a massive country, and in Chinese the word for China is "Zhongguo", which means "middle country".


“The Chinese used to think that China was the centre of the world, because in the north lies snow and icy weather, in the west deserts, the ocean to the east, and in the south majestic mountains.”



seen through the eyes of alumni

As promised in the previous edition of the NWU & U, here is a more detailed account of Sanja-Rika and Theo Venter's adventures in China. If you missed Sanja-Rika's very enjoyable and chatty letter in the previous edition, click here to read it.


Join us for a tour of China, as seen through the eyes of alumni Sanja-Rika and Theo Venter.


What could be stranger than words written in an alphabet that seems indecipherable? Maybe a crispy dragonfly kebab to nibble on?


However: if you – like Sanja-Rika and Theo, both alumni of the Potchefstroom Campus – have lived in China for almost two years, then "strange" has probably lost the worst of its sting.


These two young adventurers met each other in 2012 on a hiking trip in the Amatola Mountains in South Africa. At that stage Theo already had a BCom degree in risk management and Sanja-Rika a BA law degree. After they met, Sanja-Rika obtained a postgraduate certificate in education in 2013, and taught at a school in Ventersdorp and then in Klerksdorp.


Whose idea was it to go to China? “We decided together,” says Sanja-RikaBefore they went to China, Theo was an agricultural economist at Senwes in Klerksdorp.


Theo had previously taught English in Korea and had enjoyed it a lot, and their curiosity about China was the final push.


A challenging alphabet


While teaching in the city of Shenzhen, they learned to speak Chinese. They became familiar with the most common symbols in the Chinese alphabet, especially those that appeared in menus. “Just to make sure you knew what you were ordering,” laughs Sanja-Rika.

Fortunately, they didn't need to learn the approximately 1 000 Chinese characters needed to get along on a daily basis. “We could ask anyone to read something for us – China has a very high literacy rate.”


These days everyone learns the simplified Chinese, which is easier to write than the traditional Chinese characters. “Today they also write from left to right; no longer from top to bottom like in ancient China.”


The rich – and their dogs – on display


Sanja-Rika says that the distinction between the classes is very conspicuous in China. There are very rich people and very poor people. The poor are predominantly in the rural areas where the infrastructure is rundown and employment is scarce. “That's why, every year, millions move to the cities,” explains Sanja-Rika.

On the other hand, China has more billionaires than any other country in the world. “The rich are incredibly aware of their status; the more expensive the handbag and flashier the car, the better. They compete over who is richest or who has the smartest or prettiest children, and they advertise their entire lives on social media.”


Another status symbol among the Chinese middle and higher classes is pets. These are mostly well-groomed, purebred dogs dressed up in little jerseys and shoes. “By dusk they are parading on the large plains with their dogs where everything is photographed. Cats are mostly kept in shops to keep rats and insects at bay.”


Prescripts for thinking and doing


The political climate in China has a huge influence on the people. “News is filtered in favour of the government. I struggle to teach my learners to think creatively and critically, because people are told what to think and do on a daily basis.”

Sanja-Rika says the average Chinese knows very little about South Africa.

“They associate South Africa with Nelson Mandela, the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and diamonds. They were surprised to find out that we came from South Africa, because they were under the impression that there are only black people in South Africa. Then we had to explain to them the history of Jan van Riebeeck and the East India Company.”


The next adventure


Sanja-Rika and Theo are leaving China in December. Their next stop, in January 2017, is Argentina, which is why they have already started learning Spanish, “which, fortunately, is much easier than Chinese”.


They plan to put down roots there and buy a farm, because farming is Theo's dream. “If all goes well, I am going to open a coffee shop named "Die Ossewa" (The Ox Wagon), where I plan to introduce South African delicacies to the Argentinians,” says Sanja-Rika.


In two short years, China, with all its strange customs, became home to two NWU alumni. Soon these global citizens may call Argentina home too. When you visit Argentina, be sure to pop in at Die Ossewa – there might be milk tart waiting for you.


The NWU & U


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In China a proper steak is extremely rare. All meat is cut into small pieces so it can be eaten with chopsticks. Sanja-Rika says Theo is very adventurous when it came to strange dishes. The weirdest dish he tried was a fried dragonfly he bought at one of the food stalls in Beijing's “snack street”.


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Winners of the NWU's Alumni Awards are from left Karen Meiring (Business Leadership Award), Dr Tanya Robinson (Research Award), Yvonne Mfolo (Community Involvement Award), Dr Theuns Eloff (Lifetime Achievement Award), Judge Frans Kgomo (Public Service Award) and Kobie van Rensburg (Arts and Culture Award). Due to urgent commitments elsewhere, the other two winners, Shanté Bukes (Sport Award) and Prof Llewellyn van Zyl (Young Alumnus Award) were not able to attend the event. Their representatives received the awards on their behalf.