Storytelling in Sheffield’s Chinese student community
An innovative digital storytelling project from the University of Sheffield’s School of English is exploring the lives of the city’s Chinese student community.
For the past six months, Faculty Project Officer David Forrest and photographer Gemma Thorpe have been working with a number of Chinese students who have been sharing their stories of everyday life in the city, both as students of the University and as Sheffield citizens. The stories take the form of a series of photographs, audio fragments and short films, offering a new way of understanding and sharing the experiences of this vibrant community.
An exhibition of the project’s work will take place in the Jessop West Exhibition Space on Hanover Street, opening on Thursday 19 July at 3pm. At this event the project participants and organisers will give a presentation, question and answer session and screenings of the short films. Participants’ own photography will be displayed at the exhibition too, documenting everything from graduation photos to flights from Beijing to the UK. Attendees will then have an opportunity to browse the exhibition at their leisure until 7pm. The exhibition will also be open on the following day (Friday 20 July), from 9am-5pm.
Youzi translates as ‘wanderer’. The inspiration behind the name came from a poem, Youzi Yin, (Song of the Wanderer) written in the Tang Dynasty by Meng Jiao. This well known poem has a deep meaning for Chinese people living abroad, speaking of the bond between a mother and her son who leaves home.
Student Fanlu Zhou, 22, studying an MA in Cultures of the British Isles, said: “This is the first time I've been so far away from home, I do miss my parents, my grandparents, and my friends a lot. But I really treasure the time here at Sheffield. I made up my mind to study abroad years ago and I've been prepared for this chance for a really long time. My father used to be a sailor, he travelled around the world and sent a lot parcels from abroad when I was a child. I think deep down, back then, I knew I would also go abroad, to study and travel. I think this is a really important phase for people, if they have a chance to leave or study far away from home, to grow up, to be independent, and to be better people.
“Sheffield is a really beautiful quiet city. My friends and I think Sheffield is even better than larger cities like London or Manchester. I like to take my camera and walk around the city and I did this the first day I arrived in Sheffield, without a map. I like to go to the Western Bank Library on a sunny day, and walk around the city on rainy days.
The people of Sheffield make a real difference to Fanlu’s time here. She said: “People will say ‘hi’ to you in the street, even strangers will give you a big smile. Once I had to wait for a coach at 2am at Meadowhall Interchange in December, but the waiting room was closed. I would have had to wait outside in the cold wind, but the officer Joe and the cleaner Nick invited me to shelter in their office to keep warm and they were really nice, funny people. I really love Sheffield.”
Zhouer Zhang, 24, is studying for an MA in Web Journalism at the University and is completing an internship with the BBC Chinese service. Zhuoer said: “In China, I think that some people assume students who study abroad come from quite rich families and that when they’re in the UK, they spend a lot of time partying or travelling – not concentrating on their studies. They don’t know how much pressure we’re under and how hard we really work.
“The transition from being at home to living here in Sheffield means you have to get used to a new culture. Things you’ve assumed for a long time, unwritten rules and habits that you’re used to, have to change. Being open and understanding is the key – realising that people here do things differently and they’re not necessarily being offensive. I like Sheffield and the people are really friendly, so that helps. I adapt quite well to new things so I’ve not found it too hard, but for some people their whole way of doing things has to change and it does take time. At home there’s so much you don’t have to worry about, but when you are abroad and alone, you need to take care of yourself in every aspect of your life.”
Gemma Thorpe said: “I lived in China for two years and was really intrigued to hear so many young people speaking Mandarin when I came back to Sheffield in 2009. Since then I've been keen to learn more about the Chinese student population and so this has been a fascinating project to work on. The response we got from people wanting to take part was overwhelming which goes to show how keen the students are to share their experiences with a wider audience.
“We hope it will be a good opportunity for other Sheffield students and residents to learn about the varied lives of young Chinese people in our city, to discover that despite our different backgrounds, there are many commonalities that we can draw on. We hope it will encourage people to ask questions, perhaps challenge their assumptions, to say hello and help international students feel at home in Sheffield.
David Forrest said: "Youzi is about recognising and sharing just some of the many individual stories that make up the Chinese student community at the University. Telling stories about ourselves and our lives enables us to learn much from each other. This project is about creating a space for that mutual understanding to take place. The exhibition will be a celebration of that exchange, with powerful, touching and funny representations of the city we share, from perspectives that we might not always consider."
Youzi has been funded by the Arts Enterprise project in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
Youzi project website
The University of Sheffield
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