Emma Phillips in the streets of Wuqiao, the small town where she studies acrobats.
April 17, 2013
Generally, when someone says they want to run away and join the circus, people take it with a pinch of salt. But when 23-year-old Emma Phillips told her parents she wanted to perform in a circus, she was absolutely serious.
So serious, in fact, that New Zealand-born Phillips flew halfway across the world to study at the Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School in a rural town famous for acrobatic schools in Hebei Province.
She arrived there four months ago with only a basic grasp of Chinese and, until the recent arrival of a Finnish man and woman, she was the only foreigner in the area with around 280,000 residents.
"No one speaks English here, so I was pretty much dropped in it," she says. "It's good to learn the hard way. It's starting to be less like me being a three-year-old foreigner. I'm starting to be able to join conversations and talk about random things," Phillips tells Shanghai Daily in a recent Skype interview.
Her 30-year-old coach, Liu Lin, also found communication challenging at the start. "It was a disaster when she started four months ago, we couldn't communicate with each other," she says in a telephone interview with Shanghai Daily. "Now we have developed ways to communicate without language, so it's going well and will get better in the next eight months before she graduates."
In addition to language barriers, the training has been tough. As well as being the only foreigner, she is the only adult - the other 180 students are aged between four and 14.
The students all live at the school, and are from the area.