Leeds Trinity alumna Roisin Timmins has recently made her first broadcast on Chinese State Media. After graduating in 2011 with a degree in English and Writing, Roisin now works as a journalist for the Xinhua News Agency. We caught up with her to find out more about her life and career after graduating.
Can you tell us about your career so far?
At University I gained experience working at a homeless shelter, St George's Crypt. I had vaguely thought at the time that I would be inspired and get some real-life experience that might help my writing. I certainly got some unique experiences! In fact, I continued to volunteer there, and by my third year at Leeds Trinity they had started paying me as a support worker. When I graduated I wanted to go into social work but the job market was very competitive.
Instead I decided to get a job teaching English in China to get some experience and to travel. In the end I loved living here so much that I've spent most of my twenties in China. I've been living in Beijing for the past four years. I taught English as a foreign language for a few years, then I taught public speaking and writing courses at Beijing Language and Culture University. About six months ago I became a journalist.
Tell us more about your journalism work.
I work with some incredible people. My colleagues are mostly Chinese so I'm getting an inside look at the work culture, as well as learning a lot about what it means to be a good writer, presenter and video producer. It requires a steep learning curve and a lot of overtime, but being this busy is energising and pushes me to create better content.
How did University prepare you for your role?
Obviously my writing skills came from my experience at Leeds Trinity, I specifically remember the feedback from our writers in residence being really helpful. But also the way that the teaching staff asked us to think outside the box. I never got a high grade by playing it safe at Leeds Trinity, and risk-taking with ideas was rewarded. That made me braver as a writer for sure.
What did you enjoy about your time at Leeds Trinity?
The view from the library! Actually, before I came to University I had done a year studying Environmental Science at the University of Leeds. The class sizes were huge and the teachers had very little one-on-one time with students. Obviously this didn't really suit me, I'm a very language-based learner so I prefer quite a lot of contact time with my teachers.
With LTU, I felt I had a personal relationship with all of my teachers. In fact I'm still in contact with Paul Hardwick who was my personal tutor, and have occasional contact with a few of the other faculty members.
What are your career ambitions?
I've just started at this news agency so I feel I need to stay in the job a few years to learn what I can. Once I've mastered the Chinese language I would like to move onto another language so perhaps get a transfer to South America and learn Spanish.
Have you struggled with the language barrier?
Of course! China is perhaps one of the last countries in the world where most people don't speak English at all. Those that learned in school have usually forgotten it, and those that can speak would much rather speak in Chinese. Places like Shanghai and Hong Kong are easier for those without any Chinese at all, but this is probably because their mother tongues aren't usually Mandarin.
Saying that, I think this has been the best way for me to learn a new language. When I'd tried to learn European languages I was rarely able to practise at all, people would realise I was British and want to practise their English! These days I can carry a conversation either spoken or written because I wasn't able to fall back on English so I'm grateful for that. Most importantly, I've learnt how far you can get on body language!
What do you like so much about China?
Frankly, it's the weirdest place I've ever been. Everything from eating utensils, to writing, to different calendars. The culture is something that I don't think I can ever fully understand, in fact it's so vast and varied I doubt many Chinese people will ever completely understand it either.
But aside from the exoticism, there is a deep kindness in Chinese culture that endears me to the place. The lady who owns the corner shop near my home knows what I buy from her and asks if I want those things. My neighbour tells me I should take a break because I work too hard. My colleagues are constantly trying to feed me some famous delicacy or another.
Had you always wanted to travel?
I've always loved going to other places and finding something different. I think I read too many books about explorers as a child!
What advice would you give to other students wanting a career like yours?
Say yes to everything and stay in contact with anyone who really interests you. Three years ago I agreed to judge a speech competition, even though it sounded like a tedious task with little to gain financially. But that is where I met the dean of the university where I then lectured for two years. While I was there I met a journalist at Xinhua who asked me to interview. I didn't think I was remotely qualified but I thought I might as well have the meeting. Here I am! Ultimately, what I've realised is that I've never had a good job that didn't come from a good conversation.