Chinese New Year: how my SU shaped my experiences as a Chinese student

Monday 08-02-2016 - 10:45

This is a guest blog by Yinbo Yu, Activities and Opportunities Officer at Union of UEA Students and a member of the NUS Union Development Zone Committee.

Chinese New Year is the most important festival in the traditional Chinese calendar. 2016, according to the Zodiac, is the Year of Monkey. I feel privileged to write this guest blog and send very best wishes to everyone who is celebrating it, and use this opportunity to share my experiences as a Chinese student and students’ union officer in the UK.

Looking back as a second year full-time officer at University of East Anglia (UEA), I realise I started out as very much the archetype of a Chinese student – isolated, nervous, locking myself up in halls, and only mixing with other students from my homeland. I was frightened of socialising with the home students. Not because I didn’t want to - but because I was scared. Intimidated by their heavy drinking games in the kitchen, alienated by the subconscious racism in their inherent assumptions about me.

Then there came a major milestone moment in my life – I joined the Chinese Students and Scholars’ Association (CSSA) at my students’ union. I never thought back then that I’d someday be elected as the CSSA President, and be involved in organising fantastic events such as this year’s Chinese New Year Gala. I felt anything I could do to help Chinese students integrate into the community was worth it. That is how I realised that the CSSA and the students’ union could provide me with that vehicle.

Since then I started to become more engaged with the students’ union in an increasing number of ways. I got a job in the SU shop, became a councillor, all culminating in me running for the SU elections. By this point my experience with the students’ union had been positively transformative: I developed skills and abilities that the boy hiding in his room back in 2010 never could have imagined.  

I went on to win my election as Activities and Opportunities Officer against all the odds to become the first Chinese full-time officer at UEA. I was elated: not just because I won, but because of what it represented for all those international students who had told me time and time again that they unwelcome and isolated from the campus community.

The students’ union has been for me an inclusive and friendly space, where I have been able to fully explore my potentials and self-identity. From joining in societies and sports clubs, campaigning for free education, using the advice centre to help with mental health issues or just to grab a pint in union pub: I discovered the depth of variety of activities and services available at my students’ union. Since getting involved in the student union, I’ve been immersing myself in British culture and politics – I rank my favourite of all things to be Sunday roasts, public houses and anti-cuts campaigns.

Unfortunately though, as an international student, we expected to pay extortionate fees to study here. The government-sponsored mood of hostility to migrants makes us feel often like little more than cash cows. Scapegoating of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants affects us international students – and the situation is becoming intolerable. The government’s PREVENT initiative for example, is proving to isolate and marginalise Muslim students – many of whom are from overseas. Increasingly draconian policies against international students have been implemented over the past few years - such as the scrapping of Post-Study Work Visa, introduction of Immigration Health Surcharge, Biometric Identity Card, Right-to-rent check, the list goes on. This is despite the fact that international students contribute so much both to culture and the economy.

But I’m glad I no longer feel powerless, and that I have discovered there is strength in unity within the student movement. That is why events such as the NUS International Students Campaign Day of Solidarity and the NUS Black Students Campaign Students Not Suspects tour are key and really do make a difference.

The Chinese student body is the largest movement of international student in the UK. If it can be mobilised, it can do amazing things. When I first arrived, I was like many other Chinese students: with no experience of politics and terrified of being deported by a hostile government.  But now, here I am, at the front of picket lines and demonstrations, fighting for the rights of all students to access education and be treated justly. In Chinese we say ‘团结就是力量’(Unity is strength, solidarity is power), and it is crucially important that Chinese students stand together proudly and unapologetically as a movement, speak out against the racism and xenophobia that permeates government policies designed to scapegoat us for their failures.

So I would like to send the very best wishes and wish you all a productive and promising Year of the Monkey. For me, I hope the Monkey Year represents the moment when we see Chinese students finally step out from the shadows and standing together in solidarity – and making sure our voice is heard. I want to see Chinese students standing in every SU election, being involved in every protest against government-sponsored intolerance, and sending a strong, clear message that will now refuse to be taken for granted.

Yinbo Yu

Activities and Opportunities Officer (Union of UEA Students) 2014/16
NUS UD Zone Committee 2015/16


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