By Sinéad Mangan-Mc Hale

Breaking down cultural barriers and fostering inclusion, learn how this new Community Interest Company (CIC) seeks to connect the rich tapestry of London’s Chinese community with the broader local population.

The REN Chinese-British Cultural Exchange Association, founded by Rares Maglan and Meiyang Tang, is a vital link between the vibrant Chinese community in London and the local populace. As a Community Interest Company (CIC) registered in late 2023, REN aims to foster cohesion, inclusion, and a profound sense of belonging for Chinese individuals, especially students, navigating the cultural landscape of the UK.

The Chinese community is one of the oldest in London, arising from Britain trading with China as far back as the 17th century. Today, there are almost half a million Chinese migrants throughout the UK and over 150,000 students in the UK completing their education. London is the central location, with an estimated 120,000 plus Chinese people living in London, representing 1.5% of the city’s population and 33% of the entire UK-based Chinese population. With such a large community of Chinese either settling permanently or studying here, there is a need for organisations to facilitate a connection with the local community.  

Rares shared with us that they hope to promote cohesion and inclusion between Chinese people and the local community, helping all parties gain a better sense of belonging and ultimately reducing the loneliness felt by many migrants and overseas students when they first arrive in a new country. While the association will reach out to all Chinese people and their local community, they have a significant connection to the Chinese students attending colleges and universities. 

International students, particularly those from China, encounter unique challenges, including cultural shock, language barriers, and feelings of isolation. Having experienced these hurdles, Rares and Meiyang identified a critical need for support systems that go beyond cultural exclusivity. The organisation seeks to create a welcoming environment for Chinese students to engage with the local community and enhance their international study experience.

As Rares explains,

“We saw a real need based on our observation and discussion with fellow students and friends, both local and international. We found that many Chinese students coming to the UK don’t have a chance to communicate and integrate with the local people and community. This results in most Chinese students only developing friendship groups with fellow Chinese people and not having a real international study experience. Most Chinese students are willing to talk to the local community and people; however, because of cultural differences, feelings of shyness, and lack of confidence about their English, they have less chance to do so. This situation was one of the driving factors behind us setting up our organisation”.

Rares highlighted another significant challenge facing Chinese students: the language barrier. Mandarin is the official language in China, with almost 70% of the country speaking it. English is a second or even third language for many people, so the level of English for students coming to the UK can be limiting, making communication even more problematic.

Coming to the UK for many students and migrants can often be the first time an individual has travelled outside of their own country, and adapting to a completely different culture, language, infrastructure, and even climate can be challenging. There is an understandable tendency to stay within the safety of the overseas Chinese community and not interact with locals or fellow students. Recognising these challenges, Rares researched what support systems were in place to break this cycle and give Chinese students the confidence to interact with the broader community and on campus. Rares and Meiyang felt that an organisation run by students for students, with an active rota of events, initiatives, and social media presence, without the typical framework of exclusivity that many cultural organisations typically have, would increase the opportunity for engagement. 

Rares and Meiyang have a busy schedule of events planned to include Chinese New Year (an event is planned for the 8th of February in London’s Chinatown) celebrations and activities such as Chinese calligraphy classes, Chinese language learning, Chinese cooking classes, and Friendship activities designed to share Chinese culture with the local community. They both feel that the Chinese population are not their only target audience and that a connection with the local community is equally essential, achievable by sharing the richness of Chinese culture with the wider community. Sharing different cultures and traditions is critical to embracing diversity and developing a genuinely informed and interested multicultural society. 

In the wake of rising racist incidents, particularly against Asians post-COVID, Rares and Meiyang are determined to dispel myths and stereotypes. Their events, including Chinese New Year celebrations, aim to create an inclusive space for Chinese and local individuals to interact, fostering mutual understanding and diminishing ignorance that fuels discrimination.

REN will promote these events via social media such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Still, as there are different Chinese social media platforms, the team will also use WeChat Group chat, Xiaohongshu (similar to Instagram) and other similar Chinese-specific social media platforms. The association is actively building partnerships with local businesses targeting Chinese and local markets, providing commercial networking opportunities. However, to make their events accessible and impactful, REN is actively seeking funding and various forms of

REN Chinese-British Cultural Exchange Association is poised to make a lasting impact, not only in the lives of Chinese students but in fostering a harmonious multicultural society. By breaking down barriers, celebrating diversity, and promoting understanding, REN aims to build a bridge between cultures, creating a more connected and inclusive community.

To find out more about the REN Chinese-British Cultural Exchange Association, you can contact Rares or Meiyang by email at nihao@ren-community.org.uk, or social media platforms:

  • My WeChat: 1339827926, 
  • Instagram @rencommunityuk and 
  • LinkedIn @REN – Chinese-British Cultural Exchange Association

For a deeper understanding of migrant lives and their stories in the UK, go to TogetherintheUK.   

Photo by Thomas Despreyroux on Unsplash