Xiaoxiao’s destiny to be in Dundee
Published on 19 July 2021
Xiaoxiao Zhang always wanted to run her own business, and coming to Dundee saw her realising that dream, as well as meeting the love of her life.
Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Sarah Petrie, sat down with MSc International Business & Marketing alumna Xiaoxiao to hear more about her Dundee story and how it has transformed her life.
“Before I came to Dundee, I had already started my entrepreneurship journey. I had won a couple of business plan awards in China with my team and when I decided to study abroad, I knew, that International Business was always my first choice. The main reason I chose Dundee was actually word of mouth, if people recommend something and you know them, you trust them to help with your final choice. I had heard from other people that it was really safe and a good city. I like my own space, so I think Dundee created that kind of atmosphere for me, to match my personality. I believe choosing Dundee was my destiny, something that had belonged to me since I was born.
“When I was moving from China to Dundee, my first impression was about the lifestyle and the speed that everything goes at. In China, our lifestyles are really fast-paced, everyone is very busy, and you do things instantly. But when I came to Dundee I found everything was slowed down, which was something I had never experienced before. I think it’s good, not just for students, but for people in general, to know more about different cultures, different lifestyles, and to be able to choose the best lifestyle for themselves.
“Early on in my studies, I realised that my classmates here were different to my classmates in China. Back home, people like doing things together, we always connected as a group and did things as a group. I realised that a lot of other students here are more independent, so that taught me to be independent as well. When I came to Dundee, I was only 20, I needed to be able to look after myself, cook food for myself and manage everything by myself. There’s a lot of things that I gained from moving to Dundee to study, which were all very valuable experiences.”
Xiaoxiao also found that the style of teaching and classrooms, helped to develop her as a person too. “In terms of the studies, the key difference is how we are taught. In China, we don’t have ‘open classes.’ It is always the students at desks and chairs, and the teacher stands at the front, teaching and learning rather than engaging and communicating. At Dundee, you’re able to ask questions and you’re allowed to question what the teacher or lecturer is saying. Lecturers created new topics for the students, giving us a very good experience. Those kinds of classes can really help us to open up as people and help us all to have more conversations with other students from across the world.”
After completing her studies, Xiaoxiao decided that she wanted to stay in Dundee and make it her home.
“For my friends back in China, they said coming to Dundee was an unforgettable memory for them. But for me I didn’t want it becoming a memory, I wanted it to be something that continued. When I came to Dundee I found something new that I had never experienced before. I was able to find more time to think about what I really wanted and to choose what I wanted to do. In a high pressure country or city, you sometimes feel like you’ve lost yourself and you don't know what you’re actually doing and you don't know what your dream is, but because I had time to think about my life, I felt clearer on what I wanted to do."
“I always wanted to have my own business after I graduated, business is something I am passionate about. While I was studying at university, I met my partner James. He runs his own digital marketing business in Dundee. After lots of conversations with him, I applied for the entrepreneurship visa after I graduated. I started my own business and my original business plan was an app called CTurtle. People who study abroad and go back to China are called ‘sea turtles’ in Chinese, so the app was to help Chinese students when they first arrived in the UK to help them to find the right place to stay or give them guidance on life, and help them to adapt to a new culture and British life quickly - that kind of ‘help-type’ of platform.”
Chasing her dream as an entrepreneur, Xiaoxiao has entered various business competitions including Venture Competition, Converge Competition, and Scottish Edge.
“I've been through different business competitions, competing with local businesses, students, professors. Those kinds of experiences helped me improve my English really quickly and at the same time built up my confidence. I also gained a lot of skills and learned how to actually work in the UK. Starting your own business, you have to know all of the regulations and what needs to be considered in business, I needed to know how I would train staff too. Unfortunately, the idea of my app didn't work out and I needed to rethink it but again the Centre for Entrepreneurship really helped me and encouraged me on my journey.”
Xiaoxiao now works alongside her soon-to-be husband James at Zudu, the app, web and digital marketing company that he started in 2014, looking after the China side of the business and their digital marketing as China Partnership Manager.
“My role includes a lot of communicating with clients, I help salespeople to win projects in China, and I also manage the teams in China. We have three teams based in China, I engage with them every day, and help them to deliver the best results for our clients. I am the bridge between the China and UK business. I still feel like I’m running my own business, being able to manage different things.”
Although she was disappointed that things hadn’t worked out with CTurtle, she was determined that this wouldn’t signal the end of her entrepreneurial journey.
“I think it is quite hard for an entrepreneur to accept if your idea doesn't work out. It is really hard, but at the same time for an entrepreneur the spirit is to keep your passion on business.
“Sometimes business ideas just don’t work out, but I started thinking of other ways. If Chinese people need help in the UK, once they arrive here, this also means when Scottish or British people are going to China, they would need help as well, so I thought, why can’t I help the other way round too? And that’s how we started Nihao Scotland.”
Having studied an undergraduate degree in Computing in China before moving to Dundee to study International Business, Xiaoxiao’s business ideas were always based around technology.
“I’m very appreciative of what I learned in my computing degree, because that gave me different insights – my ideas were always based on technology platforms.
“I’m putting into practice the content that I learned on the International Business course on a daily basis rather than just learning something, getting the degree and moving onto the next part of your life.”
Nihao Scotland, which translates from Chinese to English to mean ‘Hello Scotland’ was founded in 2018 based on Xiaoxiao’s passion for Scotland, and it has seen enormous success since it began.
“Our goal is to bring Scotland and China closer, so we built a platform on WeChat which allows Chinese people to know more about Scotland. Nihao Scotland now has more than 50,000 followers across six different platforms and we promote businesses through six different main social media channels in China, with more than 100,000 readers per article normally. Educating Chinese people about Scotland and Dundee is part of my mission as well, Dundee is where my passion came from – I want to share the city with other people who haven’t been here."
“Nihao Scotland has been part of James’ company Zudu since 2019. No matter whether it is my business or my partner's business - we have the same passion for business and doing business together is helping us to achieve our dreams. Nihao Scotland has developed further to include ecommerce. We also started our own Chinese company last year which is helping Scottish business to distribute their products to China such as whisky and spirits, to sell to Chinese audiences.
“Now that I’m looking back on being here for five years, I start thinking people at home are probably quite jealous that I was able to stay. This city has brought me a lot, and not just what I have achieved so far. I don’t really feel I have succeeded yet, but I feel like what I’ve got so far would not have been achieved without staying in Dundee. Dundee is a small city, but at the same time it is growing, and we are in the trend and in the wave!
“I’m actually becoming someone that I want to be now. If I was to give advice to my younger self, I would say any decisions that you made were never wrong, they were always right! I don’t regret things, that’s what has shaped me. I believe keep positive, keep doing what you want to do and you will get closer and closer to becoming the person that you want to be!”
Xiaoxiao and James are tying the knot this month and we would like to wish them all the success in their journey together, as they continue to pursue their entrepreneurial business dreams.
It was fantastic to learn about Xiaoxiao’s journey from China to Dundee and to see how much her Dundee experience has truly transformed her life. Her story is a fantastic example of not giving up on your passion, and that self-belief, determination and passion will help you to achieve your goals and realise your dreams.
Do you have an interesting alumni story that you would like to share with us? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to hear from you.
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