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‘Studying with and meeting people from all over the world is one of the most inspiring things that happened in my life.’
Xinxin has always been involved in international education and has seen first-hand how difficult it can be to settle into an English-speaking country. She’s been a student in the UK and the USA, and says she really felt settled when she made friends with a very welcoming diverse group of students who spoke English with accents from all over the world. This experience not only improved her own English, but it also made her more aware of the wider world and her role in it. She’s now able to give something back by working for a company in China that promotes global learning opportunities for international students.
Growing up in China there were a couple of points on my journey where I really started to learn English. My native language is Mandarin, but in my hometown in the Henan province English is introduced to us in middle school, so around the age of 11 or 12 we started having English classes twice a week. Interestingly my mum was an English teacher, but I found informal learning just as important because you are driven by your own interests. This involved discovering English through Western popular music and Hollywood films.
I dreamed about being an artist or a journalist but chose to study communication. I went to a business school in China where I majored in Business English. It was the first time I really learned spoken English and after a year I transferred to the USA to study communication at a college north of Seattle. There were lots of challenges as I was not from a very wealthy family and studying abroad is very expensive, so I had to work part-time to save money for my education.
In the USA I met a diverse group of English-speaking students who were on a scholarship programme and this was a turning point for me on my English journey. They spoke English but with different accents from all over the world – Pakistan, India, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia – and I found practising my English with them really helped me settle. It was the first time I had been abroad, so it was a fascinating experience.
If we didn’t have the common language to communicate, I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad in English and make friends.
I enjoy communicating and helping others, so I got involved in a programme at the college designed to help students improve their English. They matched a new student who might be struggling with English with a student who has a higher level of English. I took part as a mentor and was paired with two new international students from Korea and Hong Kong. We met once a week to talk about anything to help them practise their English. I really enjoyed this experience because you receive a lot of help yourself along the way and it’s great to be able to share this positive experience and give something back to others.
The next step of my English journey was moving to the UK to study intercultural communications. I felt very comfortable using English. There was a little bit of adjustment because I was used to American accents, but I think I was one of the lucky students because I had done a lot of preparation.
Studying abroad is one of the most inspiring things that happened in my life. Being able to interact with people from different cultures and society is eye-opening. It can help you see things from a different perspective, become more open-minded and understand the complexity of our world. And on a personal level it’s very rewarding when I think about the things I’ve seen and the friends I’ve made.
English helped enormously. If we didn’t have the common language to communicate, I wouldn’t have been able to study abroad in English and make friends. English has been indispensable for lots of my experiences and achievements and without it, the experience would have been unimaginable.
Right now I’m based in Wuhan in China and I work for an international education company. We provide services and support for Chinese students who want to study abroad as well as international students who are interested in studying in China. In my job I can help students have a better international experience by providing international education news, courses and other support to help people who are starting a similar journey to mine. My educational background has taught me that knowing English is not enough on its own, you also need to have cultural awareness and certain intercultural skills to make the most of your journey abroad, so this is one of the projects we are working on. I feel like I’m doing something meaningful.
I would like to continue working in international education. In the future I might study abroad again in another country. If there is an opportunity, I will consider that.
About Xinxin Zhang
Xinxin took IELTS to get a place at a university in Cambridge, UK.
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