Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Meet our graduates: Jack Smith

Based in the British Embassy in Beijing, Jack graduated in 2008 with an MA Hons degree in Chinese. He is Senior Communications Manager for UK Research and Innovation China.

Jack Smith has lived in China since 2008, working in a range of different roles, including in broadcast and print media, Public Relations, and the film industry.

A photo of Jack Smith
Jack has lived and worked in China since 2008.

Originally from York in England, he made the decision to study Chinese at the University of Edinburgh following a month's travel in China. 

"I took a year to give working in kitchens a try - I was considering becoming a chef at the time - and used the money I saved up to travel in China for a month, after which I returned to the UK knowing that China was where my future lay."

"I fell in love with Edinburgh while still at school after visiting a friend who was studying European languages in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC). The romance and beauty of the city still lights me up whenever I have a chance to visit."

"While studying for my A-Levels I started to look ahead and think about my future, but I didn’t want to just be a linguist. I’ve always viewed languages as a means to communicate with other cultures. LLC offered a good healthy dose of cultural and literary studies – I was particularly attracted to the film studies component of Chinese Studies – and so it really was, I felt, the only place in the UK where I’d be able to do everything I wanted academically, and personally."

Embracing challenges

Jack is certain that his career progression was aided considerably by both his academic and professional backgrounds, as well as the wealth of opportunity available in China.

"I moved to China in 2008 to take up a scholarship to the Beijing Film Academy (BFA). That was around the same time as the global financial crisis hit and a lot of people I studied with were also returning to China to seek opportunities that just didn’t exist in the UK – our language skills were in high demand in China, and that demand has only grown since I moved here. Through the small but extremely well-connected network centred on the BFA I was able to work multiple jobs in broadcast and print media, PR, the film industry (as an actor, screenwriter and director) and also pursue my interests in improv comedy and theatre."

"I eventually settled into an editorial job with the China News Service, overseeing their English-language news magazines, which further expanded my network and led me to my current role (in the country’s foremost public funding agency for research and development), which I started in 2016. My fluency in spoken Mandarin, written Chinese and my ability to navigate the Beijing scene has been a huge asset. My degree was very balanced between intensive study of Chinese history, literature, film and culture and hard language training, so I arrived not only able to communicate with ease, but, almost more critically, able to relate and connect with local people on a much deeper level."

"China offers the opportunity to reinvent yourself, and that's what keeps me going, other than my husband and my kids. I was always a bit of an outsider in the UK and struggled to fully invest myself in my interests and passions because I felt the market for creative people was overcrowded. In China, the pond is much bigger, and by embracing my unusual background I was able to land opportunities and responsibilities that wouldn’t usually be offered to someone as young or as inexperienced as I was when I first arrived. In China, you’ll be pootling along, minding your own business, when your phone will vibrate, and it’s an offer to compere a drag show, or help organise a concert, or a commission for some graphic design work, or a colleague from years back approaching you to consult on a TV series. Opportunities blindside you here, and if you can prevent yourself getting overwhelmed, you can build and build."

'Relish every experience and opportunity'

Calton Hill
Edinburgh viewed from Calton Hill

Jack believes that his time at the University of Edinburgh paved the way for his career path and created friendships which he still holds today.

"Edinburgh – the city and the university - is, I believe, the best place to study in the world. There’s this feeling that used to sweep over me whenever I climbed the steps out of Waverley Station from trips home – I’d crane my neck to gaze around at the crenelated buildings of Old Town and a voice deep within myself would say ‘I’m so lucky to live here.’ My time at the University of Edinburgh gifted me a close-knit network of lifelong friends, the opportunities that launched my career, and a deep affection for the place that always draws me back – even in driving December sleet with twin toddlers in tow (I took my family there last Christmas)!"

"I felt that the faculty in Chinese Studies respected us and treated us as adults – expecting a lot but always rewarding effort and genuine passion for the subject. I didn’t want to be told what to research or pursue academically – I’d had enough of that with my A-Levels, and I wanted to be an independent academic as early as possible. I know that this level of independence can scare some students, especially straight from school, but it allows you to develop rapidly and stand apart. The fact that I’m still friends with the people who taught me, and always make time to see them when they’re in Beijing, is the best testament to how I felt about my lecturers! I also love every one of my graduating class, and never miss a chance to catch up. I’ve got beloved former classmates set up across the world, from California to Tokyo."

Reflecting on what advice he would give to someone interested in his area of expertise, he says:

"China doesn’t compromise. You can’t shape the language, culture or society to fit around you, so you need to learn to adapt, to improvise, and to bounce back from challenges without resentment or bitterness. The key is to jump in with both feet and don’t think too much about how ‘foreign’ everything seems. If you can do that, face the challenges willing to improvise, and relish every experience and opportunity, you’ll never need to look that hard for a rewarding livelihood. If you can embed yourself in the culture that looks set to dominate the 21st century, all the hard work will be worth it."

Are you interested in studying Chinese at LLC?

The University of Edinburgh is the only university in Scotland to offer Honours degree programmes in Chinese. Suitable for complete beginners, you can take Chinese as a single honours subject, or jointly with one of 10 other subjects.

Find out more about studying undergraduate Chinese at LLC

Related links

Read more stories from some of our 15,000 graduates

Read our feature on Life After LLC