Loneliness in London helps to open new chapter
When Li Leren first visited London in December 2015, she fell in love with the British public's appreciation of the little details that can make life beautiful.
"Walking on the streets, I was amazed by how every household decorated its front garden with care," said the 27-year-old, who comes from Qingdao in Shandong province.
"I realized that Britain's rich culture and heritage exists not just in museums, but in the way people live their daily lives," said Li, who arrived in London in 2016 to pursue a PhD at the Royal College of Art.
Li's appreciation of British culture was strengthened by the fact that she had studied for her master's in New York, enabling her to experience the difference between the two cultures.
"In London, people can sit down to enjoy a cup of coffee for an entire afternoon, or take a stroll in the park and feed the birds. But in New York, everyone is in a rush," she said.
"As my PhD studies focus on the history of design, culturally rich Britain provides a much better environment for my learning."
Li is representative of the growing number of Chinese students at British universities, for whom the United Kingdom's culture and heritage are key attractions.
She feels that the British lifestyle has changed her over time, in the way she dresses, the way she decorates her room, and the way she treats her friends at social gatherings.
Now, when she hosts guests at her flat, instead of ordering pizza as she used to in New York, she prepares fruit and desserts on delicate plates. But Li admits that her student life has not always been so smooth.
"When I first arrived in London, I felt lonely. I was in a new environment, and the task of making new friends was a challenge," she said.
But she later realized that loneliness was probably being experienced by many other Chinese students, and with that in mind, she started a weekly literary meeting at her flat for them.
Li started by inviting classmates. She then posted advertising flyers in neighboring universities. Then, through word of mouth, numbers for the meetings grew so fast that, within two years, more than 300 people had signed up to her mailing list.
Today, Li never speaks of being lonely. Her life outside the classroom is filled with friends' gatherings and intellectually stimulating conversations.
At each literary meeting, she stands up and introduces the guest speaker of the week. As a friendly hostess, she also moves around the room to ensure that every guest feels welcome and is looked after. Looking back, she marvels at how her student life in the UK has changed her.
"I feel I have become a more confident, outgoing and thoughtful person. I have been able to explore more of the world and also myself."