Being in a different country can be difficult for many reasons. Culture shock, language barriers and missing home can all make it hard to leave your comfort zone and start building a new life for yourself. A lot of international students studying in the UK struggle to make the most of their time here; often sticking within friendship groups made up of classmates with whom they feel they have more in common. This is a universal experience, and certainly something I definitely witnessed among British and American students studying in China.
However, those that leave their comfort zone usually tend to find their world get larger, their real-life language proficiency improve and the opportunities available to them increase. This is something that Suzanna Tan believes so much so that she has dedicated her time and energy into helping students from Mainland China build and understand their potential in the UK through her coaching work and a book she has written.
Suzanna, who is British born Chinese, has had a career that spans over 25 years. In this time she has developed great skill and ability when navigating the professional world. She is now a professional career coach, producing and running courses for groups and individuals that are aimed at helping a range of people reach their full potential. This includes everyone from Masters and MBA students to senior management professionals. Unlike other mentors, Suzanna has a keen interest in helping Chinese students find their feet, an interest which was inspired by listening to the experiences of friends she made while studying her MA at University of Warwick.
Suzanna recognised some of the key issues faced by Chinese students in the UK. These include social isolation; difficulty breaking out of Mandarin speaking groups and developing English skills because of this; differences in educational styles and also career expectations and finding work. For Suzanna, all of these issues fall under two categories, Personal Growth and Career Preparation, which are the main development areas of her coaching courses and also the two main parts to her book.
The book, University Student Handbook – From China to the UK, was published in 2020 and is a compact yet comprehensive guide to settling in and excelling in the UK. Suzanna has written this book in a way that is easy to understand, even if reading English isn’t your strongest skill, however, a Mandarin version will be published in the future.
The book covers everything from tips to improve your English and making friends, to building a career plan and understanding the educational culture in UK universities. With such a diverse array of advice aimed at combatting multiple issues, you might expect the book to be a long and arduous read. Instead, this 128 page guidebook is actually quite simply split into sections that take a culturally sensitive approach to advise and guidance.
Speaking to Suzanna about her experiences researching the book, she said that the issue she most commonly found among her clientele and friends were that “students underestimate the impact that good English fluency will have on every aspect of their time at UK university. It’s not just about getting the mark in English language tests that universities look for, it’s more about the fluency required to read, write, listen and speak.”
The importance of English fluency is one of the biggest barriers when settling in well in a new country but if it can be overcome, then it can greatly improve ones quality of life. The best way to do this is to immerse yourself in UK life and culture and make English friends.
While making foreign friends can be hard, Suzanna told us that “A simple suggestion is to take part in university activities such as the Student Union, and joining clubs or societies can also be a fun way to do this. Taking advantage of the connections you make during your course is important too, whether it’s virtual learning or face to face, you can still reach out to people to connect outside of academic classes.”
More structured guidance on doing this can be found in her book, where she has a whole chapter dedicated to developing a diverse group of friends.
Throughout the book, Suzanna impresses the upon the reader the importance of utilising their university’s student services, which will offer mental health support, careers guidance and study skills. These 3 aspects of support are particularly important for international students who may be learning a whole new style of education, worried about their future career prospects at home or abroad, or struggling with the difficulty of being so far from home. Suzanna sees this alienating experience as a challenge, but knows that helping people overcome it and succeed is a worthwhile mission.
While her book is still quite new, she has had great reviews from people wishing that they had been able to access information like this before coming to the UK to study. Suzanna is in a great position to be able to understand the cultural background of Chinese students while also understanding the UK as someone who was born and grew up here. Because of this, Suzanna’s book and coaching modules feel honest and fresh, offering a deeper level of support than might be otherwise possible.
We really enjoyed meeting Suzanna as she shared much of the same passions we do regarding helping people learn about the UK and feel as though they have the tools to thrive here. We are really excited see how she continues to support Chinese students.
Her website, www.coachingst.com, contains information about the coaching she provides to worldwide professionals along with webinars for universities and courses tailor made for students from Mainland China who are aiming to study, or are currently studying at a UK university. Webinars and courses are available to reserve and her book is available to purchase from Amazon as a hardcopy or E-book.