Every year, more and more Chinese are going overseas to study, work, and learn about the world around them. In partnership with the Dongguan Overseas Scholars Association, HubHao speaks with some of these Chinese who have lived abroad and ask them about their experiences.
I’ve know Jing Jing know for a year and a half. I was first introduced to her during an article about her paper design company, Paperism. We had met that day in One For The Road; a familiar setting for a lad from Middlesbrough and a woman who had studied two hours down the motorway in Sheffield.
We discovered we shared the same birthday and from that moment got on. We complained about the English weather, our favorite Chinese weather, and everything in between. Since that day we’ve made sure to meet up every now and then to catch up. Usually Jing Jing would invite me to a new bar or restaurant that had opened and at some point we would turn to reminiscence about the UK.
To interview Jing Jing for Living Abroad, both felt so obvious that I felt stupid for not doing it sooner but also strange as she had become friend. Ultimately, I was very happy she agreed to the interview, for Jing Jing is someone who really benefited and learnt from her time studying abroad.
It was my turn to invite Jing Jing and I took no small amount of pleasure of introducing her to Alan’s World; a quaint and peaceful restaurant café that could have been on a street in the center of Sheffield. We take a table in the corner, order some tea, and begin the interview.
Jing Jing laughs when I pull out the recorder for the interview and when I ask her to introduce herself she does so with a straight face. “Hello, my name is Jing Jing Zhang. I am a Dongguan Local. I was in the UK from 2006 until 2011. I lived in Sheffield and studied Packaging Structure Design at Sheffield Hallam University.”
I’m intrigued to why she picked Sheffield. To me, I will always be grateful for them giving the world Arctic Monkeys and Pulp, but outside of the UK I didn’t realize it was so well known. “I didn’t choose Sheffield. I first chose my major and then looked at the universities. I had already completed a degree in arts & crafts from the university in Guangzhou. After that I decided to study abroad to refine my skills.”
Jing Jing headed to the UK somewhat unprepared. “I had never travelled abroad and my English was rubbish.” But it didn’t deter her in the slightest. “I was pretty excited. There was no time to be nervous. I didn’t know anybody there so it was like a new world for me.”
I’ve been to Sheffield on a few occasions. It’s a city found in the heart of Yorkshire, nestled in the foothills of the Pennines, and built on the back of the steel industry. What were Jing Jing’s first impressions? “I actually arrived on my birthday. I went to where I was staying and I couldn’t believe that was the accommodation. It really reminded me of a castle. It was really quiet and the trees looked scary. I couldn’t go outside by myself. I remember the first two days I just ate two packets of crisps.” What finally made her leave her accommodation? “I was hungry,” said Jing Jing with a laugh.
Jing Jing faced a few challenges studying in a foreign country. “I was the only Chinese person on my course. The whole of my college had only five or six Asian students. There were sixteen people in my class and they were all native English speakers.”
She found the system very different to what she had experienced in China. “In China, the teacher just ask you to remember this, this and that from the books. So you should just read the book more. In the UK, the education system was quite automatic. I mean the system makes you to push yourself to make yourself interested in the module. So you would go away from the classroom and go to the library yourself, research by yourself, everything by yourself. In the end, every student is different and so is their work. I prefer this style.”
Despite the language barriers and different systems, Jing Jing adapted and soon stood out amongst her classmates. “When I first started to study, I didn’t really know anybody else in my class. The other people didn’t really know me and the English students didn’t really talk to me. But from the first project, I got a really good mark. The teacher said that Jing had done a really good job, and after that the other students start to talk to me. Years later, I was on television in Zhejiang. They asked my lecturer to do a video for me. They said Jing did a really good job and I’m so proud of her.”
It was during her first year that Jing Jing met a woman who would have a strong influence on her career. “A woman named Sue Blackwell was invited to the university to be a guest professor. She was an artist for making paper design. She was well known for her box designs including pop-up displays for jewelry and watches. Our lecturers said if we were interested then we could join the class.”
After I met her, she thought my paper skill was quite good and she asked me to help her. So from then on, I worked part time with her. We worked together for three or four years. She was a strong influence on my work and we still keep in touch these days.”
When the conversation turns to what she misses from the UK, a whole host of things pop up. “It’s weird. I eat Chinese food when I’m in the UK because I miss China, and then I eat the Western food in China because I miss UK. I miss my friends. I miss the weather. Not the snow, but the summer, when it was really nice.”
“I also miss the way copyrighting is treated. In the UK, people respect the original design. Sometimes here, people see that you have an interesting idea and a good market and all they want to do is earn money from it.”
One thing did surprise about the UK did surprise Jing Jing, and not in a good way. “I thought the men would be like gentleman. Everyone should be like a movie star. But I had no idea. Some people can be quite rude. Especially in the big city.”
Since 2011, Jing Jing has been back in Dongguan, pursuing her own career and building her own company, Paperism. “When I returned to Dongguan, I was working in a LED company. I was working in the marketing department helping when foreign customers visited and also designing the packaging, catalogues, or stands for fairs.”
“After one and a half years working in that company, I started to get the small orders to design lovely wedding boxes. Once I got more orders, I quite my day job because it was my passion. That is how my company, Paperism, started.”
“After three years we’ve got three directions. One, is machine paper design. Two is the handmade design. For decoration, event, party, or it can be a display for a shop or a magazine shoot. And from last summer, we started to co-operate with some students to teach them paper design.”
Jing Jing has really made a name for herself in her field of design. So it’s perhaps not surprising she hasn’t time to visit the UK. “The last time I was in the UK was November 2011 for my graduation. I want to visit again in the future, but I knew I would always come back to Dongguan. I am the single child. If I had brothers or sisters then I would have thought about staying.
And with that the interview is finished. We relax a bit, chat about Dongguan, while she finishes her cup of tea and take the last of the sausage roll. I thought I knew Jing Jing well, but the interview had revealed some things I had never known. It’s funny how enlightening an interview can be, even with a good friend.