A college graduate hailing from the Balkan nation has fully embraced the Chinese spirit, Cao Chen reports in Shanghai.
Filip Filipovic may not look Chinese, but one could be forgiven for thinking he is just by listening to him speak Mandarin.
After all, the 23-year-old Serbian, who recently graduated from the school of international relations and public affairs at Fudan University, has been learning the language for the past 18 years.
The only overseas student to be conferred the university's 2020 Graduation Stars award, which recognizes students who have showcased all-round excellence, Filipovic even claims that he isn't all that different from his Chinese counterparts.
"Like most Chinese graduates, I experienced nine years of compulsory education in China and have often stayed up all night to prepare for presentations or essays during my days at the university," said Filipovic during his commencement ceremony.
He adds that there are many foreign students like him who have been eagerly learning the Chinese language and about the country's culture, hoping to foster deeper connections between China and their home nations.
Filipovic learned the Chinese language when he was still in Serbia because his father, who used to study Chinese history, religion and philosophy, sent him for private lessons.
"The teacher taught me 100 Chinese characters. I thought the characters were strange and difficult to learn at the time. The teacher had to prepare desserts to entice me to learn," he recalls.
Due to his father's desire to conduct research in China, in 2005, the family moved to Shanghai. Unlike most foreigners, the family enrolled their son in a local primary school instead of an international one.
"My parents believed that being in a local school environment where I could play with local kids would benefit my growth here," he explains.
In order to keep up with the locals, Filipovic took various courses and extracurricular lessons after school.
"The teachers guided and supported me. However, their requirements for me were the same as those for Chinese students as this was vital in accelerating my improvement in my studies," he says.
"Life was tough in the beginning, but I'm grateful that my parents made this decision. It was the best way for me to understand a new culture and country.
"Even though I couldn't speak or understand much Chinese at first, I tried to make friends through basketball, because sport is a universal language," he adds.
To improve his knowledge of the language and culture, Filipovic also watched popular local TV shows like Home With Kids and Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, as well as the news on China Central Television.
Today, speaking in Mandarin is almost second nature to Filipovic. In fact, the only place he doesn't use it is at home.
"My parents speak only Serbian at home-they worried I might forget my mother tongue," he says.
Four years ago, Filipovic enrolled in Fudan University to pursue his interest in international politics.
There, he wrote papers on China and on the Balkans, produced analytical reports for Chinese research institutes and enterprises, as well as translating Chinese documents for Serbian scholars.
Filipovic also attended several activities that helped enhance his knowledge of the governance system.
In 2017, during his first year at the university, he visited the conference venue for the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress and engaged in a role-playing simulation of the congress. That same year, he participated in the preparation efforts for the Youth Innovation Competition on Global Governance, an annual contest where students discuss subregional issues and carry out co-curricular learning. He took part in the school event again the following year.
In 2019, he volunteered at the 2nd Conference for the Union of School of Politics and International Relations held at the university. He also invited Darko Nadic, vice-dean of the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, to Fudan University for the conference.
His contributions to the university eventually earned him the accolades of Outstanding Model Student of Fudan University, China Development Bank Distinguished International Student Scholarship and the Fudan University Boxue Scholarship.
Filipovic also assisted at the Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia in Shanghai during the early stages of the pandemic in March and April.
During his stint there, he helped the Serbian government and enterprises purchase medical supplies from China, arranged for donations to be sent to Serbia and translated documents for meetings.
He says he has been moved by the kindness shown by the Chinese, noting that the consulate received thousands of boxes of personal protective equipment from Chinese communities.
"China has upheld the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind. It has adopted an open and inclusive attitude to the world and has helped those in need," he says.
This September, Filipovic will pursue a master's degree in international relations at Fudan University and continue to foster closer ties between the two countries.
"I expect to be helping to introduce delicious fruit, meat and liquor from Serbia to China. I think this would be a great bilateral trade opportunity," he says.
"I believe countries should learn to cooperate with each other and move toward common prosperity, and this requires the effort of our generation."