The leadership skills Freddie Cloke, a member of our Generation UK: China Network, gained as an international university student in Wuhan, China helped him start a business after graduation.
I improved my language skills quickly
Wuhan is a transportation hub for China, and has the largest student population of any city in the world, at 1.2 million.
Wuhan also has fewer foreign businesses than Shanghai or Beijing, and English isn't used as widely. That motivated me to improve my Mandarin skills faster than if I had been based in a first-tier city.
I learned the language out of necessity, but gaining better knowledge of Chinese helped me to integrate, and to better understand the city, people and culture.
My improved language skills helped me to start a cross-cultural initiative
I set up a society, with a group of students, to bring Chinese and international students together to discuss their views on current world affairs.
I delegated responsibility for the weekly sessions to other international students. I also helped students prepare for conferences around China, and advertised through the university's website and our WeChat public account. I applied for financial support for our weekly sessions through the university and private sponsors, and managed the funds that we gained.
That initiative led to a leadership role in my university's student union
Later, I was appointed Vice President of the Wuhan University International Students’ Union (WISU), which is responsible for nearly 3,000 international students. The university and President chose me as a result of my work in leading the weekly international discussion sessions.
We were the first international students’ union to work directly with the Chinese students’ union (the Wuhan University Communist Youth League), which allowed us to work with party secretaries and Chinese student union leaders.
Our work with the Youth League on large events meant university and media promoted our events to hundreds of thousands of people in Wuhan. This allowed us to receive greater attention from the wider university community for the work we were doing. Wuhan University has 54,000 Chinese students and 3,000 international students.
We worked with state-owned companies, like the One Belt One Road rail logistics firm, to help international students get internships in those companies. The foreign student interns assisted the company with their expansion into Eurasian and European markets through helping them to communicate with foreign business and diplomatic representatives.
My experience in Wuhan led to a business opportunity
After I left the international student union, I set up an educational consultancy and cultural communication company. The experience of organising large student events and promoting these events taught me how to coordinate events for my own business in China.
I see an opportunity for development in the international education sector in Wuhan, and to help build international links between Wuhan and the rest of the world.
I think that future economic growth in China will no longer be driven in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but in the second-tier cities where disposable income levels and standards of living are rising fast.
UK students and recent graduates can find internships in China through Generation UK. Applications close on 13 January.