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Hello London!

Tina Liu (UCL Centre for Transport Studies 2010)

London15

© Claudio Zaccherini/Shutterstock.com

People often assume that moving from Beijing to London, aged 22, would make this capital a home-from-home for me – they are both big, bustling cities. But coming to UCL felt a very long way from China, where I was born and raised.

The first weeks were the toughest. Each day I’d count down to 2pm, which was the time in China that my parents would be home from work, and I’d cry down the phone to them. I am very close to my family and had never really been away from them, but I’ve always been curious and I relish new challenges – in this sense UCL was absolutely the right choice. I felt I had the whole world on my doorstep and that excited me; London feels like the beating heart of the country.

I loved the people too. Sitting on the bus, I remember being surprised to hear all kinds of languages, and often no English at all. British people who live in London are clearly comfortable with diversity, and for international students that is very important.

Today, I work in Shanghai, analysing the world’s ports and logistics industries for Drewry, a maritime adviser. Without my London experiences, I wonder how I’d have coped with the culture shock of arriving in China’s biggest and most prosperous city. After all, Shanghai may be in the same country as Beijing, but that’s about all these rival cities have in common.

Shanghai is all about business, something that weaves itself into the very nature of the people. It’s a place with a very clear demographic split, with a huge ex-pat community living very separately to the Chinese. Yet I am in the fortunate position of being able to crossover both, and I have UCL to thank for that.

I also owe the confidence I now have to my time in London. In China, lectures mean sitting and listening to the teacher, but at UCL PhD students are seen as experts in their field, constantly expected to come up with original ideas.

Meanwhile, joining the Enterprise Society helped me bridge the gap between university and work. It was a great way to interact with international students and we organised a lot of events; it brought me a step closer to the “real world”. In fact, dealing with colleagues internally and clients externally in my job now really is pretty much the same as it was in the Society.

I used to have a burning need to return to live in London, but now I feel its vibrancy, energy and diversity from afar. So for now at least I’m just happy enough to visit, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out settling back there again – one day!

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Portico Issue 2. 2015/16
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