Data Analyst, Horwich Farrelly

My initial interest in China came from my days as a university student. My second year offered ‘free modules’ where you could take classes from other degree courses, and so I opted for a language. The UK is the most monolingual nation in Europe – knowing this, and being aware of the economic rise of China, I signed up for my university’s Beginner’s Mandarin course. My teacher, Mr Wang, did an excellent job of instilling a genuine interest and passion for both the Chinese language and the country itself. Beyond handing out extra resources, he told us interesting stories about his hometown and let us ask questions about both China and Mandarin as a whole. At the end of my second year, he encouraged me to continue my studies beyond the classroom, and pointed me in the direction of the British Council’s Generation UK Scholarship. I had some reservations – I’d grown up entirely in a very rural village, was naturally quite introverted and had a strong fear of flying. 

Ultimately, I decided to apply. To this day, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

My six months at Fuzhou University introduced me to a world a million miles (or rather, roughly 6,000) miles away from the rural village I grew up in. I’d gone from a very rural village of less than 1,000 people to a relatively small Chinese city of three million, with unlimited access to free language practice as long as I stepped out of my comfort zone. I’d deliberately picked a class one difficulty level higher than my own – though this made things hard at the start, it forced me to knuckle down, study hard, and develop strong study habits and techniques to both learn faster and make things stick. To this day, I still actively practise and learn Mandarin using these same techniques and speak Mandarin Chinese to an advanced level (approximately HSK 5).

My time in China has brought experiences and opportunities far beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. My Chinese has progressed from not knowing how to ask the price of an item to helping several friends set up bank accounts. I’ve not only climbed the Great Wall of China, but also ran a full-distance marathon across it. I’ve experienced the roasting 45-degrees heat of a Fuzhou summer and also the teeth-chattering cold of -35 degrees at Harbin’s Snow & Ice festival, whilst sledding on a frozen river. Most importantly to me, though, is how all of these have shaped me as a person – I’ve gone from being an introverted villager, afraid of planes and the outside, to someone who has now lived in three continents and made strong friends from four. My Generation UK experience taught me the fundamental necessity of stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow, and just how much can be achieved with a single step. 

Having Chinese language skills to hand is something that’s benefitted my career. I’ve been able to act as a translator and interpreter during business calls with Chinese parties, act as a Chinese-speaking port-of-call for students and staff visiting the UK and be able to competently use Chinese websites and social media, such as WeChat and Weibo. All of these skills are particularly potent in combination with being a native English speaker and have given me great visible benefits when working for both Chinese and English firms. 

Even for roles that don’t actively focus on Chinese language skills, showing an employer that I’ve persisted with a notoriously difficult language to an advanced level is something that’s never gone unappreciated. The effort and discipline required is a valuable transferable skill in any job role.

The next five to ten years are hard to predict, both personally and geopolitically. The shifting roles of both the UK and China in the world necessitate good diplomacy, aided by those equipped with the skills and knowledge to understand the other side. I would love to work in the next decade to help chart our course in this new era of Sino-British relations.

My advice to UK students thinking of studying or working internationally – particularly in China – is to remember that comfort zones are places where ordinary people do mediocre things, and there is extraordinary growth just beyond it. Do your research – read up and speak to those who’ve been before – and do it. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Christian participated in the Generation UK scholarship in 2015/2016 studying at Fuzhou University. Currently he works at Horwich Farrelly as a Data Analyst