‘‘My first impressions of Sheffield are that it is bigger than Preston. And more cold.”
Ling Hong Yzng has been in Sheffield for a few days preparing for a course in international events management at Sheffield Hallam University, but visited the city last year while studying in Preston.
“I came on the train and saw lots of sheep and cows in the snow. I’d never seen snow before because I come from south China and we never have snow there. I took lots of pictures.”
New students are arriving in Sheffield again, and among this year’s intake at the city’s two universities are thousands of students from China - the largest overseas country represented at Sheffield University, representing over 40% of the university’s overseas students in 2012, while at Sheffield Hallam, over 30% of the university’s non-European students are from China.
Sheffield University has claimed close links with China for over 100 years, since Z T K Woo arrived in Sheffield to study metallurgy in 1904 - the University’s first ever international student.
Now, a tenth of the university’s student body comes from China, and staff and students have put in place mentoring, tutoring and vacation project schemes to help Chinese students integrate and learn about Sheffield, and the university even employs a Chinese ‘ambassador’ communicating to Chinese students via Weibo (aka the Chinese Twitter).
At Sheffield Hallam, Chinese students take part in the Local Friends Project, where they meet local residents and go on trips and cook together.
On Sunday, 150 international students met members of Christ Church in Fulwood for a traditional afternoon tea, with tea loaves, scones, fairy cakes, flapjack and tea (with milk, if required).
“It can be daunting to arrive here from another continent, moving into a new city is daunting even just from Barnsley to Sheffield,” said Tim Cudmore, director of ministry at Christ Church.
“There’s things you don’t understand, even just the way people do things and respond to things can be a very scary experience.”
Christ Church has been welcoming international students for many years, and even runs a special ‘Lighthouse’ Sunday morning service for them at Birkdale School.
Tim said that students from China are keen to learn about English culture, and the church is as much part of that cultural experience as traditional English cookery. (Initial culinary soundings suggested that scones with cream came out higher than cucumber sandwiches among Chinese tasters).
“The international students church gives you some suggestion you are not alone,” said Yiren Huang.
“They give you advice, they care about you, and that’s very helpful to students who are far from their home and family, who may have a sense of loneliness. It is difficult, when people don’t speak to you, and you get the impression they have a cold face toward you.”
“Just a smile feels welcoming,” said Lin Du. “Or asking students if they need any help.”
Lin has been in Sheffield several years, and believes that greater integration between home and international students is needed.
Zhao Wantong added that opportunities for Chinese students to volunteer on local projects is also helpful, as they can then improve their English while helping the local community.
The students said they came to Sheffield primarily due to the courses and teaching quality on offer, but also cited the city’s reputation for safety and friendliness.
“People are not friendly in the south,” said Raymond Tse. “Here people are down to earth, they welcome you and listen to any opinion.”
Raymond now works in Sheffield designing wind turbines, having previously studied and worked in the USA and Bristol.
The number of Chinese students has itself boosted the local economy, with business owners from traditional Chinese centres like Leeds and Manchester moving to Sheffield to offer food and entertainment to the city’s growing Chinese population, he added.
International students often come to Sheffield to gain specialist science and technology expertise, and in turn international companies come to Sheffield looking for students trained in disciplines like electrical and mechanical engineering.
“Here, there are more people devoted to the work that they want. They have a shortage of labour themselves so they have looked at the whole of England and find that Sheffield is the place.
“There are lots of different students here from Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East. there are a lot of talented people.”