by Relja Dusek
ZAGREB, March 8 (Xinhua) -- On a sunny afternoon, people were enjoying their drinks on outdoor terraces of local cafes. Among them was young Chinese musician Zhang Yuchen, who was rehearsing with her professor to get prepared for a concert.
"I do notice the pace of life in Zagreb is much slower (than in China), and people are sitting in the sun, enjoying coffee everywhere around the corner," Zhang told Xinhua. "It actually gives me a bit more time to adapt to the life here."
Zhang came here almost three years ago and has become the first Chinese student at the Academy of Music of the University of Zagreb. She is also one of the best classic guitar players in her class, very insightful and determined to succeed.
TIES WITH CROATIA
Back in 2011, Zhang enrolled in China's Tianjin Music Secondary School that is attached to Tianjin Music Conservatory and studied classic guitar there. Meanwhile, Zhang met Darko Petrinjak, one of the best-known Croatian guitarists, who was holding a master class in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. Petrinjak recognized her musical talent and invited her to come to Croatia.
At Petrinjak's invitation, Zhang went to Zagreb in 2015 and spent the whole summer learning from Petrinjak. "I remember I had a feeling that a new chapter in my life had started," she recalled, and it was then when she decided to study in Croatia.
Zhang was the top-scorer in the entrance exam of the University of Zagreb and Petrinjak is satisfied with the progress she has made in the past few years.
"She is a very, very diligent student and a very serious one. She is making up for all deficiencies with which she came here three years ago. There were many problems in basic techniques and understanding Western music but she is progressing really quickly," Petrinjak told Xinhua.
Zhang's excellence as a music student was also recognized by renowned Croatian composer Sanda Majurec, who invited her to record Pebbles and Ripples, the first piece in a recently-published album of the composer's latest works. The young guitarist was honored and particularly excited as a "published artist."
Moving to Croatia was not an easy choice. "My parents had doubts. They were worried about me studying abroad alone because I was the first Chinese student here in Zagreb Music Academy. I am really glad that in the end they trusted me and let me choose my own path," Zhang said.
When she started her study here in 2016, the biggest challenge was to find balance between lessons, practice and leisure. During the last two and a half years, she has learned some Croatian, so life is now much easier than the beginning.
"Now, I have managed to balance everything. I have learned how to communicate with professors, how to study efficiently, how to solve problems independently, how to stay motivated and keep on practising to achieve the goal, and I have found time to go to gym, travel and enjoy pleasant leisure time with my close friends here in Croatia," Zhang said.
The young Chinese is thrilled by the European way of music education. It is different from China, which is more focused on the playing techniques, she said. Here, students are taught to better understand music itself.
"I think a genuine musician needs to own precise music playing techniques, professional music education, and more importantly a musical heart. The first, as well as parts of the second element, can be gained in China, while the third depends on every individual. But there is more chance for me to own all three here in Europe. And I did not start to be aware of and equip my playing with these three things until I came to Europe," Zhang said.
The China-Croatia relations have developed in the last few years, with more and more Chinese investments and tourists entering the southeastern European country.
In December 2018, the Chinese Embassy in Croatia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Academy of Fine Arts, which is also affiliated to the University of Zagreb. There are currently dozens of exchange students in Croatia and the number will increase.
"I really hope that all I have learned through these years abroad, plus the work I did when I was very young in China, will foster me to become a mature musician and one day I could give all my knowledge to the next generations of young Chinese musicians to help them improve in all," Zhang told Xinhua.