A friendly stranger gave Grace Guan a warm impression of Edinburgh that endures today. The MSc Education graduate, who set up the Shanghai alumni club, is set to take up the post of Regional Director for East Asia in September.
Grace Yan Guan
|Year of Graduation||2010|
Your time at the University
I received a few offers from different universities for different degrees. It was a difficult decision, but I decided on Edinburgh University. I believed that it was equally important to learn and challenge my way of thinking, and expose myself to the rich culture and history in the place of study. And I believed Edinburgh offered the perfect combination.
The course exposed me to a wide range of themes, including education theories, critical discourse analysis, media and gender studies. It has also offered me the opportunity to navigate within the degree subject themes that I’m passionate about.
I remember arriving in Edinburgh. I knew no one and my English was far less fluent than now. I was holding a map, trying to figure out where to go to register. Standing at the intersection of busy streets, I looked up from my map. The traffic light man turned green and I saw an older woman walking right towards me.
She asked me, “Are you okay, love?”
I told her where I was going. She held my hand, and gave me detailed directions. I nodded and thanked her. I still got utterly lost 50 metres later, but that first interaction left me with a great impression of how friendly people are in Edinburgh.
I loved the history and culture of the city - how the annual Fringe festival transformed the city into a wonderful grassroots playground for artists, and how the Halloween party combined with Samhuinn fire festival was like nowhere else in the world. Not to mention the many other traditional Scottish festivals.
One memorable party was held at our course director’s house on Burns Night. We had haggis, Irish stew and whisky. One of the lecturers brought his own bagpipes and later we read our favourite poems from around the world. Walking back home through the Meadows, my heart was radiating.
Thanks to my beautiful memories of Edinburgh, when I returned to China and realised there were no alumni associations here, I decided to set up one.
Your experiences since leaving the University
I decided to stay in Edinburgh after graduation. It was very lonely since, most, if not all, of the people I knew had left. And I struggled to find a job until I stumbled into a freelance interpreting role. The role took me to many unexpected places, including corporate grievances meetings, factories, and research labs. It gave me insight into all sorts of industries I wouldn’t otherwise have known, and more importantly boosted my confidence to walk into any unknown situation with composure.
Later I decided to go back to China. Fortunately, soon after applying, I got an interview and was offered a position at the British Consulate in Shanghai. For the first year, I got to work across the different departments, from Climate Change to the Economic department to Trade and Investment. Then I joined the Political and Economic team where my passion for civil society and social policy has grown in the past few years.
The confidence to give everything a go and the need to absorb new knowledge took me further in my career. Later I managed the official development assistance fund for the consulate, supervising and delivering a wide range of fascinating projects from anti-domestic violence, to capacity building for grassroots non-governmental organisations, to freedom of expression. I was extremely fortunate to have worked with so many inspiring people. I was also lucky to have worked on the high-level visits of David Cameron, George Osborne and Theresa May for UK-China bilateral relationships.
The sense of adventure and curiosity was not limited to work. After I left the university I have also challenged myself in respect to travel and sports. I travel around the world extensively whenever I have the opportunity, it has given me fresh perspectives. I also took up the challenge of boxing from scratch, and then contested in front of 1500 people to support breast cancer awareness.
Thanks to my beautiful memories of Edinburgh, when I returned to China and realised there were no alumni associations here, I decided to set up one. Starting with small gatherings in cafes, we’ve now held a few ceilidhs and Burns Night celebrations for 500 people. The community is growing ever strong, all because we have that special sense of belonging to the city we once called home, Edinburgh.
Immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of Edinburgh. Talk to new people, wander to new places, and never lose that childish curiosity.