"Chinese language is the love of my life. I hope the romance will never fade," said Ruslan Ustinov, a young Russian, in perfect Chinese.
On Saturday, Ruslan was crowned the champion of the 17th "Chinese Bridge," a Chinese language competition for foreign college students, in Changsha City, central China's Hunan Province.
Over 150 contestants from more than 100 countries, the best Chinese speaking students in their own countries, took part in this year's contest combining language, culture and fun.
In the final round, Ustinov delivered the three reasons why he should win the "Chinese Bridge" championship.
In his speech, 19-year-old Ustinov expressed his love of Chinese learning. As a world economy major, he also illustrated his future plans based on his studies.
"China and Russia are friendly neighbors. The bilateral economic and trade exchanges are increasingly close. The courier service in China is so fast, which always brings me euphoria," he said. "I want to introduce China's fast courier service to Russia one day and as well as more Chinese products of quality."
Ustinov's hometown, Chita, is located on the Sino-Russian border. He visited China for the first time with his father at the age of four, and began to learn Chinese at six. He learned simple Chinese words such as "Hello" and "Thank you," with the Chinese who spoke Russian in his neighborhood.
After entering middle school, he began to systematically study Chinese every day.
"The more I learn Chinese, the more interested I become," he said.
His pronunciation was not very "Chinese" as the teachers were Russian. Four year ago, his family moved to Novosibirsk. Thanks to the Chinese teachers at the Confucius Institute there, his Chinese quickly improved.
He said the most difficult part in Chinese pronunciation was the phonetic tone. "The Russian tone is very flat, while the Chinese intonation changes a lot."
His strategy of overcoming the difficulty is very simple, as he put it, "to engage more exchanges with the Chinese people."
The biggest improvement came from his experience as a tour guide for Chinese people. At the beginning, he was worried the tourists would not understand him. But as the Chinese tourists were so enthusiastic, he became more daring to speak Chinese, and his oral Chinese got better.
In a short time, he was able to stand on a tour bus, wearing a microphone, and fluently introduce the history, culture and customs of Russia.
He would even remind visitors which local specialties were worth a try when shopping in markets, and which food might taste strange.
For him, the competition is more like a Chinese class. "Besides the language, I have also learned the history and culture of China, and made many good friends from all over the world."
Herbert Mushangwe, the director at Confucius Institute at the University of Zimbabwe, who was a final judge, said: "The Chinese language learning and 'Chinese Bridge' competition let the world see the splendidness of different cultures and the charm of Chinese learning."
After the competition, Ustinov will return to Russia for a short break, before coming back in September. He will spend the next two years studying in China.