From China to the Speigeltent

Experiencing British culture is an important part of an international student’s time in the UK. Increasingly, volunteering is being used as a means to do this, which is helping students to improve their language skills, make friends, integrate into the community and give something back to their adopted homeland.

RongZou SelfieOne such example is Rong Zou, a Chinese student at the University of Sheffield studying Electronic & Electrical Engineering. Rong moved to Sheffield in July 2016 and immediately wanted to immerse himself into the local community so was quick to offer his services volunteering at the University’s Festival of the Mind celebrations. Rong takes up the story:

“I received an email about volunteering for Festival of the Mind and I thought it was a good chance to practice my English, make friends with other people and learn more about the culture of the UK. There are so many interesting and amazing events during Festival of the Mind, including talks, theatrical performances, art displays, as well as interactive exhibitions all about research carried out at the university.”

Rong’s experience saw him work at a number of Festival of the Mind events at Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries and at the famous Spiegeltent, which gave him the chance to meet local people, understand British culture and showcase the University’s work to the wider community.

“I volunteered several times during the festival, giving guidance to the public and helping to get feedback about the events. In order to do a good job, I familiarised myself with the events and learnt about the research behind them by reading through the brochure or asking the festival team. I was most interested in ‘Futurecade’ held at the Millennium Gallery, which was full of exhibitions of virtual reality. It was my first time I had experienced virtual reality, and I was very excited to share my enthusiasm with the visitors.

SpiegeltentRong’s work on the Festival is just one example of how international students are devoting their time and talents to their local communities whilst they are studying in the UK. Rong also had a message for other international students who may be interested in volunteering during their time in the UK.

“I would definitely recommend to others to get involved in the future, either as a volunteer or by visiting the festival. I also learned a lot during the festival, including how to communicate with local people and how to explain research in a simpler and more interesting way. It was so nice to communicate with lots of people from different cultures. I’d recommend that more people, especially Chinese students like myself, get more involved in these events as a great way to meet others. I was really happy to get good feedback from the festival team on my work.”

Interestingly, it was a tradition that originated in East Asia that tested Rong’s new language skills the most and provided to be arguably his biggest success.

“I had an amazing time at the leaving party, even winning a prize for my karaoke – which especially surprised me as it was the first time performing a song in English since being in Sheffield!”