As you may recall, this year has seen the first cohort of students from our partners at Hebei Normal University in China here in Stirling for the final year of our new double degree programme in Translation and Interpreting. To help the incoming students adapt to life in Stirling and in Scotland, we set up an informal buddying scheme involving students from across the campus. As the year progressed, the Stirling buddies were invited to apply for the opportunity to travel to China to meet with the next cohort of HNU students and, following a very competitive selection process, French at Stirling student Elliot Knight was selected. He travelled to China at the end of March and, now that teaching and exams are over, we’ve finally had a chance to catch up with him to get tales from his trip:
“If I have learned anything from my trip to China as a student ambassador, it’s that walking around a Chinese university campus clad in a kilt attracts a fair amount of attention. Students and lecturers alike would come up to me and ask me where I was from and what I was doing there, and I told them that I was there as a student ambassador from the University of Stirling. It made me proud to represent my university, and indeed Scotland in China.
From the moment that the plane landed in Beijing, everything about my environment felt different to anything that I had experienced before. The constant noise of car horns, the smog, the architecture, the food, the colours, the language and most of all the sheer number of people. From Beijing, I took a high-speed train to Shijiazhuang, where Hebei Normal University is located.
Whilst I was there, I was tasked with making a presentation to future generations of Hebei Normal University students that will be spending the final year of their degree at the University of Stirling. I told them, of course, about the buddying programme for HNU students in Stirling, and how a buddy can help to enhance their experience whilst they are at Stirling. I explained that a buddy can help them with some basic aspects of adjusting to living here, from restaurant etiquette to the benefits of creating a Facebook profile. However, the focus of my presentation was how the buddying system could help them to better experience all that Stirling and Scotland have to offer. That, whilst their academic studies at Stirling would be important, that experiencing the culture and seeing a different part of the world were also of great value. Furthermore, I emphasised to them that, not only are there many fantastic cultural opportunities for them in Stirling and in Scotland, there are many aspects of Chinese culture that they are able to contribute to university life as well.
In addition to presentations, I was also given the opportunity to meet and have a formal dinner with senior members of the languages faculty at Hebei Normal University, where I was able to explain to them how the buddy programme has been working for the students currently studying in Stirling. In addition to this, I was able to spend some time with HNU students in an informal capacity, going out for dinner with them, and then going to a games arcade; quite an unusual experience as they are rarely seen in Scotland now.
Throughout my trip, I was struck by the level of friendliness and courtesy that was shown to me by my Chinese hosts. I was truly made to feel welcome. What struck me most of all, however, was the openness of the students with whom I spoke. They asked many questions about life in Scotland and in Europe, and were delighted to answer any questions that I had about their lives in China.
It is through seeing the differences in culture and environment between Scotland and China that I can truly appreciate the challenges faced by Chinese students coming to study in Scotland for the first time; it is truly a daunting prospect. The buddying scheme has been great for widening my own perspective. It has allowed me to see the environment around me from the perspective of someone to whom everything that I find familiar is unfamiliar, and in turn I have been able to have the same experience and see things from their perspective. What my role as student ambassador has demonstrated to me is the value of forging international links between universities: being able to interact with people with different perspectives and from different backgrounds truly enriches one’s experience as a student. So, in the same way that interacting with Chinese students at Stirling and visiting their home university has broadened my perspective, I hope that I have been able to encourage Chinese students at Hebei Normal University to broaden theirs.”
Thanks, first and foremost, to Elliot for sending this blog post but also to our Faculty of Arts and Humanities for supporting his visit to HNU, and to our partners at HNU for extending their welcome to him for what sounds like it was a great visit. And we’re looking forward to welcoming next year’s HNU students in the Autumn and to seeing the buddying scheme running again from September.