UIC Alumni Zhong Zhihao and Hu Ying first met back in 2013 at UIC during the English Enhancement Programme (EPP). They were sitting close to each other and when the teacher asked everyone to find someone to introduce themselves to, Zhihao and Ying ended up not just introducing themselves but beginning a long term friendship that has been going strong ever since. To this day they send postcards to each other from around the world with inspiring words and introductions to the places that they are at.

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(from left) Zhong Zhihao and Hu Ying

When they graduated in 2017 from the International Journalism (IJ) programme, they took different paths but have, however, maintained their friendship. Ying described Zhihao as a person not only constantly asking how we can change things, make things better and make a difference, but also as a person who tries to actually implement his plans, so she was not surprised that Zhihao decided to join the Teach for China Programme to teach kids in China’s less developed areas. Zhihao has said that neither he nor Ying would have foreseen six years later that they would still be close friends encouraging each other even if they were not in the same country. Zhihao and Ying were also the editors of the International Journalism Programme Yearbook.

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Ying and Zhihao at their graduation in 2017

Below are their stories of what they have done since graduating, what skills they have acquired at UIC, as well as how they are using these skills in their daily life.


Zhong Zhihao

My name is Zhong Zhihao and I obtained my BA degree in International Journalism in 2017. I am graduating again from Teach for China, a two-year teaching programme in China’s less developed areas. For the next two years, I will be a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany.

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Zhihao with three of his colleagues

During the study of IJ’s Year-Three course ‘Gender, Identity and the Media’ instructed by Division of Humanities & Social Sciences (DHSS) Assistant Professor, Ms Kim Johnson, I became aware of gender stereotypes around me and thought about how we could improve the situation, and I thought the solution could be through education. Therefore, educating kids at an early age with an emphasis on gender equality may help them form their values, which can influence them for the rest of their lives.

Making such a decision to become a teacher was completely different and a little difficult compared with nearly everyone else back then. The thought was actually initiated by my best friend Shi Xiaoying who was also an IJ graduate of the 2017 class. She had been dedicating herself to public services and introduced me this teaching programme. Pondering over all challenges I might have, I decided to join the program with plenty of support from my friends, parents and professors. DHSS Associate Professor, Dr Edgar Yuen, who was then the IJ Programme Director, inspired me greatly as he devotes himself to public services as well.

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 Zhihao with his students

During these past two years, I saw for the first time a very different Guangdong province. I was based in Dadong, Dabu, Meizhou City, which are located in Guangdong’s northwestern region. The mountainous area has many tunnels throughout the expressway. Topographic disadvantages restrict the town’s economic development and also education, and that was the reason we came.

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Zhihao found his passion with 'Teach for China'

I had to get familiar with the surroundings and know more about my colleagues and students. I then began to talk to everyone I met. When our conversations went deeper, I could sense that there may be some sensitive information that the person I talked to was unwilling to reveal. It was usually about their family, domestic violence, divorce and illness, etc. Unwillingness to tell these stories is understandable because I was still a stranger to them. However, I was able to establish trust between me and my colleagues, my students and their guardians with sincerity and very importantly the journalistic skills I acquired in IJ. The interview skills allowed me to discern if the person was telling the truth. If not, I could always ask for other information based on logical reasoning to decide the truth of that person’s words. If this was not enough, another source of information from neighbours etc. also helps complete the story accurately.

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Zhihao really enjoys the interaction that he has with his students

For their very last class, I reminded them how special and brave they are to be able to question the words I said to them as their teacher. Students tend to trust their teachers unconditionally and change answers when they are asked the same question more than twice. I am glad my students can try to question authorities at this early age. I hope they adopt critical thinking, believe more in themselves and make up their mind based on logical reasoning, just like the way I was trained at UIC.

I had regrets but feel content. There is so much more I could have done if given more time, but if I had limitless time doing something, I might never have started it.


Hu Ying

My name is Hu Ying and I graduated from UIC with a first-class BA degree in International Journalism (IJ) in 2017. After my experience at UIC, I went on to pursue an MSc in Global Governance and Ethics at University College London and completed an internship at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Hu Ying

I’m currently working as an intern at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Headquarters in Geneva, with the support of the Chinese Scholarship Council. My UIC experience has given me two valuable things: the confidence to speak up; and the aspiration to make a difference.

The confidence to speak up comes from UIC’s language teaching environment and the encouragement for students to use critical thinking and express their ideas. In addition to the immersive English environment, UIC provides a wide range of language courses, including French, German and Spanish.

I had the privilege to study two semesters of German and one semester of French. I also went to Lille, France, for a one-semester exchange programme and completed a journalism internship in Paris afterwards.

The language skills I gained not only enhanced my cultural awareness but also became one of my core competencies for applying to international organisations. Therefore, I am truly grateful to my language instructors, Director of International Development Office (IDO) Dr Katharina Yu, DHSS Senior Lecturer Sophie Dubios-Pepin and DHSS Lecturer Mr Helmut Warmenhoven for their dedication in guiding and inspiring me.

Meanwhile, independent and critical thinking is highly encouraged at UIC, especially in the IJ programme. The small class sizes and friendly relationships between professors and students also creates a relaxing environment for everyone to exchange ideas and thoughts.

My current work at UNHCR requires me to provide analysis of situations that might deteriorate and cause displacement crisis. The fact-checking skills I gained from IJ helped me decide what information is credible from a wide range of sources, while the critical thinking skills helped me write an unbiased and comprehensive analysis.

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Ying in front of the United Nations Office in Geneva

I am also confident and comfortable to share my analysis with colleagues and listen to their opinions. I wish to thank my IJ professors, DHSS Associate Professor Dr Edgar Yuen and DHSS Assistant Ms Kim Johnson for showing me impeccable professionalism and encouraging me to think critically and speak up.

The aspiration to make a difference comes from UIC’s Whole-person education philosophy and the atmosphere on campus to contribute and make changes. In addition to the academic curriculum, UIC has many unique courses such as Emotional Intelligence, Voluntary Service, and Experimental Development Programme (EDP).

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 Ying in front of UCL's department of political science with her dissertation

Student organisations that aim to help others are also extremely common and popular at UIC. The atmosphere at UIC encourages students to step out of their own comfort zone and help people in need. It’s difficult not to develop a strong empathy to care about others in such an environment.

I also met many inspiring and talented people at UIC. Among them, Zhong Zhihao is one of the most passionate, proactive and caring people I have ever known. I met Zhihao on the first day of my freshman year. We were sitting close to each other when the teacher asked everyone to find someone to introduce themselves. Zhihao likes to take action and make things happen. For the six years, I’ve known him, he is not only constantly asking how we can change things, make things better and make a difference, but also trying to actually implement his plans. Therefore, I was not surprised at all when Zhihao decided to join the Teach for China Programme to teach kids in China’s less developed areas. Zhihao also invited his friends to participate in his innovative initiatives during his two-year teaching programme. We sent postcards from around the world with inspiring words and an introduction to the country and to the village where he’s teaching.

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Ying along with Zhihao and other friends at IJ's farewell party

My current job involves reading many reports of violence and murder. It is empathy that reminds me that what I read is not just figures and numbers, but actual human suffering. It is the aspiration to make a difference that keeps me motivated and determined to devote myself. I am glad my UIC experience has truly equipped me with the skills and aspirations that are needed in my current and future endeavours.

Editors: Samuel Burgess (MPRO)
(with thanks to the ELC)