Tian Lan is passionate about helping people learn to communicate between different cultures and countries. She wonders whether the roots of her interests lie in the unusual history of her birth place. Tian is from Qing Dao a small seaside city in China, well known for its Tsingtao beer but with an unusual German cultural heritage. “Qing Dao was the colony of Germany for about 24 years before being defeated by the British and Japanese; it is the only city in Asia that has such a history relating to the First World War.”
Tian came to the UK in September 2013 to complete her Masters of Arts in Globalization and Communications at the University of Leicester and found herself loving the diversity here and exploring UK culture. “I went to the pub for the first time in my life, here in the UK, in Leicester.” Now she gets great enjoyment from travelling throughout the UK meeting people and getting to understand the different cultures.
As a migrant, Tian feels lucky to have met people who have been accepting and feels that any hostility she has experienced was not from the people she met but from her dealings with the Home Office.
She recalls travelling to Penzance, a rural area in Cornwall, arriving too early at the theatre and having to stand in the heavy rain. But then: “a total stranger, a lady walking her dog, said ‘I saw you and I know they wouldn’t open until one hour later. Do you want to come to my place for a hot chocolate?” Being Chinese visiting a rural area in the UK and being offered such kindness, Tian felt this was a moment to remember.
Tian says, “I realised that…the stereotypes and misunderstanding between cultures and countries really block people from communicating with each other and understand each other” and this was her motivation to becoming a specialist in cross culture communication and PR. Tian works with businesses to overcome communication barriers when trying to start up in China and the UK.
Tian is helping organise an event as part of ‘Parliament Week’ where a panel of women policy makers are encouraging women and young people from different minority groups to get involved with policy work. She got involved in this project because it was ‘super difficult’ to find someone to represent the Asian community and she wants this to change: “people have this stereotype that when Chinese come to the UK, even though they are settled, they just focus on their business instead of getting into policy making because they see it as far away, they don’t want to get involved in these kind of political things.” "The good thing," she says, “is that there is a British Chinese project that is working to encourage young people to get involved with policy making.”
Tian describes herself as “kind of an adventure type” and likes challenging herself. She was one of around 500 people who performed at Trafalgar Square this year as part of ‘Big Dance’. Tian is also passionate about volunteering for charities and giving back to the community. The personal achievement she is most proud of since arriving in the UK is completing a half marathon to raise money for charity - though she doesn’t even like running. Tian volunteers with several organisations, ‘Team London’ being one, and through this she is thrilled to have met people from all over the world. Others like her that come to London to study and work see volunteering as an opportunity to contribute to society and a way of meeting people.
A keen blogger, Tian’s writing covers travel and current events. She recently blogged about national hate crime awareness in the UK. She was inspired by a talk she attended: “There was a speaker talking about hate crime and he didn’t like the term ‘mixed raced’ he preferred the term ‘mixed heritage’ this was my first time hearing this term, that’s brilliant!” She adds, “Julie Allen, said that God created one race which is human race and human race created racism. This was so heart-warming when she said that, this is what my blog is all about …”
Tian’s advice to people coming to the UK is this: “In the beginning, you need to open your mind. People always say ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’ but do not lose yourself and your culture.” She feels that most people here, whether British or not, are friendly and not against migrants – as has been her personal experience.
Tian believes communication is very important: “when you talk to each other, when you open your mind and respect each other all these misunderstandings would have explanations.”
She disagrees with claims that migrants are in the UK to take British jobs. Migrants contribute to society and many are employed in jobs that British people do not wish to do. To ensure they are represented fairly, Tian encourages migrants to lend their voices to the immigration debate.
Over the four years she has lived here, Tian has felt the immigration climate become more hostile. She has experienced first-hand how challenging the rules for sponsoring work visas and other immigration rules can be and she currently feels in limbo as to whether she can stay on. But Tian remains positive about her future and plans to continue working for the benefit of the wider community.
“If allowed to do and accomplish what I want in the UK I would be open to staying in the UK but it’s not up to me…ideally I would like to work for a large NGO doing research and contributing my knowledge.”