The year 2020 is one that most people will remember for a number of reasons; from the rise of the Covid-19 pandemic to major anti-racism protests across the globe. But Nikita Rathane, from Botswana, will also remember 2020 as the year when she decided to put aside doubts and fears to formally embark on the journey of building the International Language Hub; an institution that she hopes will become the BLCU of Botswana.
BLCU stands for Beijing Language and Culture University. According to the university’s website, it is “China’s No.1 Chinese language learning university for foreigners.” But for Nikita, BLCU is much more than that.
Where it all started
She was still in high school when Nikita first became interested in Chinese culture. “Prior to learning Chinese, I had seen a lot of Chinese people coming to Botswana. And they were actually building my senior school. I would see them there doing some construction and I always wanted to speak to them, but I could not. So I got interested in their culture,” she recalls.
When she completed high school in 2014, Nikita decided to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in Chinese Studies at the University of Botswana. Her outstanding academic and cultural performances resulted in her admission to Beijing Language and Culture University four years later.
For Nikita, who is now in the final stage of her Master’s program, studying at BLCU has been a life-changing experience. “BLCU is a mini United Nations as we call it, mini lián hé guó. And I can tell you right now, no one can ever take the experience I have had there from me. I have seen how beautiful the world can be when people understand each other,” she says.
It is from her experience of the “mini United Nations” that the idea of starting the International Language Hub was born. “In Botswana, we don’t have a language university. Although I knew that for a long time, it didn’t bother me until I went to Beijing Language and Culture University,” she explains.
The early steps
Currently, Nikita and her small team offer a variety of services. These include online language classes and tutorials, translation and procurement services, as well as the Optimize Your Language Skills Program where they train people on how to leverage their language skills to earn money. “We are also looking at going beyond just teaching languages. We are teaching cultures. We are teaching people about how to run businesses using cross-cultural communication skills,” she emphasizes.
Photo Credit: Nikita’s official Facebook page
So far, the International Language Hub has gained traction among business people, students, and parents who want their kids to learn Chinese. “Most of the Batswana who are interested in learning Chinese are actually people who are in business dealing with Chinese people day-to-day. So they understand why they need Chinese,” Nikita explains. “There are students who are currently in China and they are doing the one-year preparatory course, where they just learn the language. We help them basically with tutorials. They are taught in their school and they come to us basically for some help because there are students who are actually going through some cultural shocks. Just living in China is not easy. So we come and help you deal with the cultural shock. It’s not only teaching the language but it is also consulting. That is a consultancy service that we have. We bridge the cultural barriers for them,” she adds.
A big vision
“Actually I envision the Hub as a University. A language University,” Nikita says when asked about where she sees the International Language Hub in 10 years. According to her, the Hub will become like BLCU; an institution that brings people together through language and culture. “In the future I am looking forward to having international students coming specifically to Botswana not to learn Setswana only, not to learn Chinese only, not to learn French only. I see them come to Botswana to experience the culture of Botswana and to experience other countries’ cultures while being in Botswana. I have realized that it’s actually possible to create a different world inside a specific country,” she says.
As she works to bring to life the institution that she envisions, Nikita is hopeful about what the future holds. “We already have the Botswana International University of Science and Technology. As the name suggests, it focuses on sciences and technologies like the one in Beijing. And we have the University of Botswana, which has been doing an exceptional job. There are many majors there, language included. But I think that in this country we need a language university and I would be very honored to be the pioneer of that.”
About the author:
Gaelle Ayamou is a journalist, a communications specialist, and a researcher. She writes about startups and Africa-China relations. She also enjoys creating visual content about communication, education, as well as women and youth empowerment in Africa. Her research has mainly focused on media representations of Africa, Africa-China media relations, as well as the use of AI in journalism and communication and its ethical implications.