Crystal Tao – Bringing China to Dundee

Published on 18 October 2021

Crystal Tao was always interested in studying abroad. Little did she know just how much her time at Dundee and all that came with it would change her life.

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Crystal was always interested in the opportunity to study abroad. Being very close with her family it was a big decision for her to make, but when she came across the University of Dundee, this made up her mind.

“I knew I really wanted to study in the UK. The idea originated for me, when a teacher of mine back in China suggested that it would be a good opportunity. I had never been away from home though and was very close with my family, but I just knew that I wanted to study in the UK.

“Business was always what I was interested in and the degree I chose was International Business. Although I didn’t have a medical interest, Dundee caught my eye and started to interest me because the Medical School here is so famous. It made me want to know more about the University.

“Also, the weather – Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. So, each of these aspects played a part in why I chose Dundee for my studies.”

Crystal is originally from the Heilongjiang province in the North East of China and found Dundee quite a bit different when she moved here at first, but this soon started to develop her as a person.

“Moving to Dundee was a big change – it is very different from China in lots of ways. Dundee completely changed my learning pattern. I was used to a lot of private study and individual learning and coming to Dundee introduced me to a lot more teamwork and team discussion.

“Teamwork was great for sharing ideas with other students and it really surprised me how much students wanted to help each other. As individuals we all have very different ideas, so it is really great when you are encouraged to share these with one another.

“The teamwork aspect really helped me to develop my communication skills too, with other students and teachers. Especially in our seminar classes which had smaller numbers. We were really encouraged to interact with others, and it really helped me to learn. These classes were my favourite thing about my studies.

“I made a lot of friends from the teamworking projects, the connections developed into friendships and we still keep in touch over WhatsApp, despite most of my friends being in other parts of the world. Perhaps one day we will have the chance to meet back in Dundee. I have made friends for life.”

As she got used to the way of life in Dundee, Crystal’s parents started to notice the impact Dundee was having on her.

“I was always one to have frequent chats with my parents, to ask for their advice. When I moved to the UK, we had the issue of time differences. This meant that I wasn’t always able to ask their advice and speak to them there and then.

“This was a big challenge for me at first, and a little difficult, but looking back it has been really good for me. My time in Dundee has definitely made me more independent and I am now happy in making decisions for myself.

“My parents have seen big changes in me, noticing a difference in me as a person. My time at Dundee was a fantastic learning curve – it really was the best decision for me to study abroad.”

Crystal also found that her skills and abilities with the English language improved very quickly too after her move to Dundee, with a little help from the locals.

Crystal Tao

“The people in Dundee are very warm and tolerant. When I moved to Dundee at first, I didn’t speak English very well. I was a little worried about how I would be able to communicate with others, even just for the basics, like buying things in shops. I found that people were very patient with me and always took the time to listen and help too.

“During that first period we were encouraged to speak a lot of English within classes, and that encouragement from lecturers and tutors was great for me.”

Once living in Dundee, Crystal knew that her decision to move had been the right one and found that the campus was perfect for her.

“My favourite place was the library. In all libraries that I have been in before, they have always been very silent environments with it being difficult to chat to others. But in our University library, we have the quiet area, and then the teamworking area. We are able to sit and discuss things, I found it a really good environment for me. The resources and the books available were fantastic and the library always had plenty of coffee too – it was just my favourite place to be.

“I lived on campus in student accommodation in my first year and it was great. Everything was so close on the campus – the accommodation, the buildings where we had lectures and the gym too. Everything was there that I needed, I really enjoyed it.

“I joined the badminton club. We had activities twice a week and would meet up in the evenings too. Even if I wasn’t playing, I still enjoyed watching the matches with friends. I also enjoyed attending classes at the gym such as yoga.”

As well as some sporting activities, Crystal also got involved in the DCSSA – the Dundee Chinese Students and Scholars Association. She was first involved as a volunteer, then as Secretary, then in her final year of studies, she took up the Presidency. Being involved in the society and these roles, was a fantastic life experience for Crystal.

“The DCSSA is not just for people who are from China, everyone is welcome. We have various different activities that we organise and we are committed to letting more people know about China, Chinese history, the culture, the landscape and of course, the amazing food.

“When I came to Dundee at first, I joined some WeChat groups, and the first time I heard about the society was through a welcome activity. My roommate invited me to come along to make some new friends. There were around 100 people that joined the activity at the Union, so it was great.

“Then when it came to Chinese New Year, they asked for volunteers to help. At first, I was quite surprised that in the UK there was a big deal being made about this, and I really wanted to be part of it. I got involved, started working with the society and that’s how I became a member.

“The society connected me with lots of different people, especially Chinese students that were in Dundee. It provided me with lots of information too – different shops and restaurants that might be of interest. Being part of the society made me more confident in speaking to others and I became a lot more sociable.

 “Of course, with things being a little different throughout the pandemic, as President I had to create new ways for us to have our activities. It was a very special year – without being able to have any on-campus activity, we took everything online.

Crystal Tao talking at a lectern

“Although it was a challenge, it was great. I was able to create something new. Some members were in China, some were in the UK and some were elsewhere in the world. By being creative and using online platforms, it meant that members from all over the world were still able to join us and be involved in the society. It helped to make the world a smaller place and enabled us to connect with everyone.”

Being the President of the society developed Crystal’s leadership and communication skills.

“Being President taught me a lot about leadership skills too, which was really good. I had to be organised and organise other people. It also enabled me to learn a lot about other people too –everyone has different thoughts, and as a leader, you need to be able to balance this.

“Running a society throughout the pandemic made me realise how vital communication skills are too – some students were feeling very nervous or low, because they were constantly at home on their own, and I was able to help them with that. I learned a lot from being involved in the society.”

Crystal is now planning her postgraduate studies, pursuing her interest in international business.

“Before studying International Business, I knew some definitions about international trade and treaties. But I was very interested in the agreements and arrangements between different countries, which is why I wanted to study the subject.

“I have learned so many things through my course, I now know lots of things about international business and international trade. Because I enjoyed the topics so much, it got me into a very good habit of studying, I am now a very active student because I had so much interest in what I was studying.

“Now, I would really like to be involved in professional work within international trade. I am also looking at options for studying a Masters and then after that I would like to stay in the UK to work for some time.

Reflecting on her time at Dundee, Crystal had some lovely thoughts and advice for future students.

“The experience wasn’t solely about increasing my knowledge and studying different skills, it gave me time to build my own ideas. I have had time to grow, I now have my own thoughts and my own opinions. It has been very good for me and for my development.

“My time at Dundee is certainly going to be very memorable for me.

“For new students coming to Dundee, my advice would be that you are making the right choice – I can confirm that. Get involved in being a student, make the most of every opportunity and enjoy your time at university!”

Having graduated in 2021, the world is now definitely Crystal’s oyster, and we can’t wait to see where her journey takes her next and to celebrate her successes along the way with her - Good luck Crystal!


Press Office, University of Dundee

Story category Alumni