Speech: International Students’ Orientation Dinner, 21 September 2018

Opening address

Good evening, everyone. I hope your journey to Surrey went smoothly, and you are not feeling too tired!

May I first congratulate you on choosing the University of Surrey for the next chapter of your academic life. This is the beginning of an exciting and inspirational journey for you. Choosing the right university is a huge decision for any student to make, and I hope you join us here with ambitions, enthusiasm and a passion to achieve great things with us!

I believe that the University of Surrey gives its students the tools and education they need to make the most of their dreams and opportunities, and to make their unique impact on the world.

What is it REALLY like to live and study at Surrey? Whatever you love to do, you will find it here. The campus and student life offer all kinds of sports, societies, and activities. We are close-knit, creative and enthusiastic.

Guildford is busy, cosmopolitan, culturally rich, friendly and beautiful! From here, it is easy to access London, the wider UK and Europe.

As international students your challenges are unique, and sometimes daunting. Luckily, you have each other! Don’t forget what a valuable resource Surrey’s international community is – not to mention a whole campus full of friendly and helpful students, staff and academics.

You may feel shy, or anxious about asking for help and advice – please don’t be! And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, maybe even to look a little silly – it’s the only way to learn and move forward. Join national clubs and societies to find a ready-made community and home-from-home, and offer your help to others who may be struggling. Helping others is a very good way to help ourselves.

One of the first challenges you may face is gaining confidence with your language skills. It seems like only yesterday that I too was far from home, slightly bewildered and without a perfect grasp of English. My English nickname, ‘Max’, helped to create a link with my new culture (‘Gaoqing’ having utterly defeated my native English speaking peers!) and my humility and willingness to learn even got me off my first Australian traffic ticket! I was stunned and embarrassed and kept apologising to the policeman, who decided to take pity on me and let me off with a warning.

I think this attitude I had – of openness, gratitude and willingness to learn – is probably the best spirit for any new adventure. And ‘cultural immersion’ is the best method: get involved, plunge in, talk to everyone and above all have fun!

The University of Surrey is a very inclusive place, and this has meant a great deal to me. From the very moment I arrived here, I have felt personally very welcomed. I am proud to have joined a diverse, vibrant and forward-thinking community in which every individual is respected and their contribution is valued.

I know you, too, will find your own place here and in turn extend a welcome to the students who come after you.

I went to Australia at the age of 24 to study for my PhD at the University of Queensland. I had $20 in my pocket and a scholarship promise from the University. Leaving my home in China was an enormous leap of faith. I wonder now how I had the courage! That first week, I survived on the $3 left after the cab ride from the airport, plus a good deal of kind help from my fellow PhD students. Their support and compassion held me up until I could stand on my own two feet.

So, through my personal experience, I know just how universities can change lives for the better – our own lives, and more importantly the lives of others, through education and research.

That’s what all of us do at Surrey. We change lives.

For this, we need smart, inspired, and determined students like you, who are going to change the world.

I have been privileged to hold leadership positions at both English and Australian universities. Higher education today is truly global: in outlook, curriculum and community. By joining us as international students, you play a vital role in continuing to build the bridges that strengthen Surrey’s global identity, and make us relevant in a changing world. Surrey is a great place to be a global citizen.

What does the future hold for Surrey?

Our ambition is to be a leading global university renowned for the outstanding quality and impact of its graduates and research, together making great contributions to society.  YOU will be an important part of this: pushing back the frontiers of knowledge, and tackling the grand challenges of our time.

I am delighted to welcome you to our vibrant community!

Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your evening.