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The University of Southampton

Modern Languages student selected for prestigious British Council forum

Published: 1 May 2014

BA Contemporary European Studies with French and German 3rd year student Lauren Pettit was recently chosen to act as a delegate in the UK-China Student Forum in Beijing, run by the British Council. Here, Lauren, who is also currently on her year abroad in Switzerland, tells us about her experience:

'The event formed part of the UK-China High Level People to People Dialogue, discussions between British and Chinese government ministers, such as Jeremy Hunt and Vice Premier Liu Yandong. This event takes place every two years and aims to improve the relationship and understanding between the UK and China through things such as Education, Youth, Health and Sport.

I was one of eight UK students chosen to take part in The Student Forum alongside 8 Chinese students, which took place on Tuesday 22nd April. Prior to the Forum, we were split into two groups, each formed of 4 UK and 4 Chinese students, to discuss issues surrounding the topics of ‘Education and Employability’ and ‘The Student Experience and International Education’ and come up with action points for government ministers and University chancellors to consider. I was part of the second discussion, in which we spoke about the integration problems faced by international students and the ways in which we think the study abroad experience could be improved. After our discussion we took questions from the audience and one student later presented the action points and outcomes to delegates of the Higher Education Roundtable.

The following day we were invited to attend the People to People Dialogue event, which consisted of UK and Chinese government officials summarising what they had discussed during their private meetings. We were also personally mentioned my Jeremy Hunt, who said “these 8 students are the future of our UK-China partnership”.

That evening we attended a networking event where we met various people including the Director of Custom Research for Greater China for the Economist Intelligence Unit and University Chancellors, such as Timothy O’Shea of Edinburgh. After having been informed that nothing had come of last year’s Student Forum, we were delighted to discover that some of our actions points and discussion outcomes had been mentioned by various MPs in their private meetings and we are hopeful that they will contribute to future policy.

In order to take part in this event, I had to answer the
question ‘How can our education better prepare us to compete in an increasingly globalised world?’ in 500 words and send my CV. We were told that our CVs were not used and we were selected solely on what we wrote in our short essays.

After having visited China last year as part of the Study China Programme and learnt a bit of Mandarin, I fell in love with the country and was eager to go back. For me, taking part in the Forum was extremely rewarding, because it allowed me to express opinions over issues I feel strongly about, present these opinions to government ministers and it gave me more confidence in public speaking and debating. Although we were very busy for most of the week with preparation and the event itself, we did manage to squeeze in some sightseeing, such as visits to the Lama Temple, The Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall and The Forbidden City, as well as many amazing meals.

I met some fascinating people who I learnt a lot about Chinese culture from, including many Westerners who could speak fluent Mandarin. After having learnt a bit of Mandarin in the past, this has inspired me to begin learning the language properly and hopefully return to China for work in the future.

While the week was very demanding and required a lot of hard work, it was a great opportunity to see another part of China, experience a different culture, meet new people and try strange foods. This experience opened my eyes to life in China and has given me a new determination to work hard to achieve my ambitions.

I think my passion for language learning has played a role in giving me the confidence to go all the way to China, to learn more about it and to attempt to learn the language. My experiences on my year abroad have had a massive impact on what I was able to contribute to my discussion, as I have noticed many issues with student integration that I think need to be improved, which I was able to relate to those students studying abroad in China. What’s more my year abroad project actually focuses on this topic, which I found was a great help in giving me ideas for the discussion because of the knowledge I have gained through my research.

My course requires me to take modules in European politics, business and society and this has given me a deeper understanding of key terms and issues brought up in the discussions, such as integration. What’s more it has increased my interest in politics and international relations, helping me develop opinions on issues such as those discussed, without which I would not have applied to take part in the Forum.

I would definitely recommend this experience to others, because I believe that it offers numerous benefits. Aside from looking good on my CV, it has given me more confidence in public speaking, a greater interest in politics and helped me to better understand the Chinese culture and people. What’s more I was able to see a lot of Beijing and I met many amazing and important people who have inspired me to return to China in the future.'

Lauren Pettit

Lauren with delegates in Beijing
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