Updated: Apr 28
An introduction to working with Friends International in Guildford and supporting students as an International Christian Chaplain at the University of Surrey.
Place yourself, for a moment, in the shoes of an international student. You are leaving your home and headed for China. You’re going to be there for the next 4 years studying at a Chinese University. You are excited by all of the new sights and smells and the beautiful scenery and architecture, not to mention the food. You have a basic grasp of the language but after a couple of weeks you are still struggling with the various symbols and grammatical differences, and constantly referring to a dictionary and google translate (the latter with varying degrees of success). Your lecturers assume all students have a solid grasp of Mandarin and therefore you have to film or record each lecture and spend hours translating and deciphering what was said. Practicals are tough as they are fast paced and often there is little time for translation as you are expected to just get on with the task.
If you have time between lectures and studying to socialise, it isn’t as relaxing as you’d hoped. Only a few students make an effort with you between lectures and you are extra sensitive to impatience as people finish your sentences and correct your attempts to practice Mandarin. You are incredibly grateful for the few that give you space to stutter and work your way through the different grammatical structures and then speak carefully but not patronisingly in return. Due to the amount of time it takes to get the work done, it is less stressful to just hang out with one or two other English speaking students and to cook at the house you live in. You can't call the house "home" because the word brings up a whole world of emotion - you miss your family and friends that you left at home. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the emotion and struggle so it’s easier to bed down, focus on study, and try to ignore the sense of isolation.
It takes time to settle but after six months you are finding your emotions are less intense. You have a few people who anchor you, many of whom have experienced living in cultures that aren't their own. They've helped you find places off the beaten track that mean where you are feels more like a home and you start to realise home doesn't need to be just one place. Your language skills are getting better and you are getting more confident with being out on your own. The moments you fit in are more regular than the ones where you feel isolated.
As the diagram above shows, the return home can bring up just as many unexpected emotions and culture shock which many students don't anticipate until they are in the middle of it! On top of the emotions we can easily imagine, many students come from less individualistic cultures. Though they may be missing family, some may be under pressure from parents, friends, or their home community to do well and to benefit their community when they return, or for some, to marry and settle quickly. It may be that it wasn’t their decision to do the qualification or even to go overseas in the first place.
Almost 6000 students here in Guildford arrive from over 120 different countries to study at the University of Surrey. They will go through some of or all of these emotions and challenges as they start their studies here. Culture shock can be as small as not being able to find the right toothpaste in a shop and feeling a bit embarrassed at your own confusion (speaking from my own experience) to debilitating depression and isolation.
What if we can give international students something more than the qualification while they are here? Well that is where my job comes in as a Staff Worker for Friends International. Friends International is a Christian charity that serves the international student community in universities across the UK. Our aim is to befriend and support international students of all faiths and none and to help them settle into UK life as smoothly as possible. We put on social events and day trips to introduce students to Guildford, other students, and local volunteers. We host or advertise English (language practice) Clubs and we also link interested students with volunteer families who host students for meals. We also have opportunities to explore life's big questions, the Christian faith, and to connect with churches around the town depending all on what the students show interest in.
So my role is varied. I am an events manager, graphic designer (for marketing events on social media and the website, though this is mostly done by a colleague), befriend-er, seminar/church speaker, host, charity rep, counsellor, fundraiser, coordinator of volunteers, tour guide, and more! As of August 2020, I am also an International Christian Chaplain as part of the Chaplaincy Team at the University of Surrey. In all that I do, I am grateful for the faithful volunteers here in Guildford that have been keeping the work going for 35+ years. I heavily rely on them for their expertise in many of these areas as well!
If you pray, I would appreciate your prayer support and you can click this link to join my mailing list which I will be using to send out a monthly newsletter - separate from this blog.
To find out more about Friends International (FI): click here
To find out more about Friends International Guildford (FIG): click here
Friends International is a charity that relies on the donations of churches and supporters and some of my salary is funded by the support of friends and family. Asking for money is possibly the hardest part of my job but each person that gives is an encouraging confirmation that I am in the right job. If you would like to support me and the work of Friends International, click here (instructions are on the linked page).
A small amount regularly is more beneficial than a large amount once. Please give whatever you are comfortable with and anything from £5 upwards a month makes a big difference. There is no pressure if you need to cancel your giving in future, especially as the cost of living is getting higher. I'm grateful for the fact that you may be considering it at all! It all goes through Friends International as a charity and if you do allocate money to me, 12% will still be given to Friends International's charity aims. If you have any questions that I have not answered here about finances or the work that I do, please do get in touch.
If you've read this far, thanks for the love, prayers and support. For those of you that know me personally, you'll understand that this job requires me to do stuff that I love doing, so I am excited to see where it takes me.