Alex Zhang: ‘I want to take control of my own life’

Wednesday April 18th, 2012 by No Comments

Alex Zhang audio clip: [audio:]

Alex Zhang was the first Chinese mainland student to run for the University elections. Alex is from Anhui Province, in Eastern China and is studying for an MA in Business Studies. He campaigned for the role of International Students Officer. This was the first time he had the chance to vote.

‘I don’t care if I win or not, I will just enjoy the time, enjoy the election. I really appreciate that I can take part’.

‘I want to challenge myself, I want to challenge my life, I want to do something really different. I think once I was here I will do something really different from when I’m in China. Many people think that Chinese people, Chinese students are quiet, silent, they don’t want to communicate with native speakers but actually, they really want to, just they do not know how to’.

‘There are no Chinese students in the Students Union. I think international students are under-represented. If I’m elected, I think more mainland Chinese students will take part.’

‘Maybe Chinese students are very traditional, they just don’t know how to vote, I mean even though they know who takes part in the election, they just don’t vote. I don’t know why. They have the right but they don’t use it. I don’t know. It’s ridiculous.’

Alex waits in the Student Union bar for the announcement of the election results.

Alex didn’t win the election. ‘I lost. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It happens. I just feel sorry for Chinese students. They are the biggest community in Sheffield University but none of us won.’

Alex contacted his friends to let them know the result. He tried to remain positive despite losing the election. ‘I think this is going to be a very important experience in my life in Sheffield. I will never forget it. I did lose but I think I won for myself. That’s the biggest thing.’

Alex was the first person I photographed for this project. Two Chinese students were running for the Student Union elections (the first time anyone from mainland China had campaigned); it seemed like the perfect introductory story to this work. Yang Fan and Alex Zhang were both campaigning for the role of International Students Officer. Alex’s email address was on his flyer and he got back to me straight away: ‘I am really appreciated if I can join this program! If we can make an appointment, we can talk about it deeply!’

We met several times over the course of the campaign, I spent time with Alex as he did ‘lecture shouts’, handed out flyers on the University concourse and waited with him for the results of the election to come in. I also recorded a couple of audio interviews with him, where the above quotes are drawn from. Alex was incredibly open and keen to share his story and experience of the election process, hoping that it might encourage other Chinese students to take part in the non-academic life of the University.

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