‘Sometimes I feel like I’ve never been abroad’

Friday July 6th, 2012 by No Comments

Several of the students I’ve met with have shared with me the issues they’ve come across during their time in the UK as an international student. Integration is a key theme that has reoccured – many students have expressed pity that they haven’t got to know more ‘native’ English speakers, and stated how in many cases they simply didn’t know how to get to meet British people.

‘People group themselves, British people with British people. It’s really sad. I want to get into this group, to express my opinions, but how should I do this?’. (ZL during our interview)

One student, Yuan Shuai, made quite a lyrical comparison of people keeping to set social groups in the city to how he had seen camels in the desert; ‘they stay in groups of three to four, they can see each other, they know they are there but they keep their distance’.

‘We are seven people living together, we just speak Chinese there, and eat Chinese food, it’s just like we are in China. So we don’t get homesick’. (WL in conversation).

There is a tendency for Chinese students to be grouped together in accommodation. Many students live in new apartment complexes, near to the University and in areas of the city centre that are traditionally industrial; many of my own Sheffield friends have never been to where the new Velocity apartments are.

Sheffield Velocity House, Solly Street.


Opal 3 student accommodation, Shalesmoor.

For potential applicants to the University, one of the first points of contact is CSSA, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. CSSA has a bbs site, a kind of forum where users can post offers of accommodation among other information, here people can find available rooms and apartments from former students, perhaps perpetuating the grouping of Chinese students together.

CSSA comes up fourth in search results for Sheffield in Chinese (谢菲尔德)

There is a concern that information posted here is not always correct and up to date and the University is keen to ensure that students are aware of the right places to look for advice and information.

This concern was shared by the University’s Counselling Service when I visited with Wenhui, the new Chinese Student Ambassador at the Students Union. We also discussed cultural differences, and how for non-EU students being told what to do in times of trouble is expected, whereas here we have more of a counselling culture that seeks to explore problems, to find solutions and be supported in finding ways to avoid negative patterns of behaviour.

Waiting room at the University’s Counselling Service

The counsellors we met noted that there is a fear of disclosing information particularly among students from mainland China, and were very keen to stress that confidentiality is kept, that there are a number of layers of security in place. Any information given to the counselling services is not shared on medical or student records.

University Counselling Rooms

In addition to academic pressures, isolation, marginalisation and adjustment issues were noted as common issues international students approach the counselling service with. Racism was also discussed, and how taunts can build up to prove quite a cultural, and personal stress. I remembered from some early interviews a couple of quotes from students discussing interactions with other nationalities.  ZL told me a story of how he wore a sweater to a nightclub in London, and a European friend told him to ‘stop being so Chinese’. Another student said how her British roommate had asked if all Chinese people rode a bicycle ‘I think people should know more about China!’ she retorted.

I have been with a couple of students in the street when strangers have said ni hao (hello) to them rather loudly.  Personally speaking, when living in China there would be some days when people shouting HELLO! across the street would amuse me, others where it would really exasperate me and wear me down. Although it doesn’t seem offensive, it depends on the context and the aggressiveness of the greeting, and of course the mood at the time of the person it’s directed to. Sometimes you just want to be invisible.

The Counselling Service offers information in English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese characters. The pdf in Simplified Chinese can be downloaded by clicking here. Other languages are available here.

With thanks to Louise and Munha from the Counselling Service.

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