Lily Li was one of the earliest students to attend Glasgow School of English, way back in 1998. She is still here – not at the School, but married to a Scot and working as a paralegal specialising in immigration in her husband’s legal firm. She very kindly took some time recently to speak to me to tell me about her experiences when she came to Scotland and how Glasgow School of English was able to help her as she settled in what was then, for her, a very strange land…
“I am from Chengdu, the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. My father was a professor and I came to Scotland because my brother-in-law’s older brother was a lecturer at Glasgow University. This was in the 1980s and he offered my sister the chance to come to Scotland. She was not sure if she wanted to, so, in 1988, I took her place!
“My relatives in Scotland knew Andrew Lennox, the gentleman who had founded Glasgow School of English the previous year, and suggested that I go there to learn the language. They helped me get the necessary visa to stay in the country and I started in the foundation course, with Steven as my first teacher. His wife was Chinese; she is also called Lily and she too taught at the School (and still does to this day!). I used to speak to her in Mandarin after classes. Steven was a very good teacher and his classes were interesting, academic and never dull. He helped me pass the Level 3 exam and I got an offer to go to university. However, I didn’t fancy that at the time and instead went to Stow College to do an HND in Business & Administration. I soon realised that was not for me and when I was looking for a job I was offered the chance to work at Global Connects, Andrew’s translation and interpreting company, as an interpreter.
“I remember my first job was to go to Maryhill Police Station, where the suspect was a Hong Kong Chinese who spoke Cantonese. I am a native Mandarin speaker, but I could get by in Cantonese and seemed to do all right on this first job, so Global Connects soon gave me more work. However, I quickly made the effort to become fluent in Cantonese as well as Mandarin. This ‘bilingualism’ is very useful for a ‘Chinese’ translator!
“Later in my career as an interpreter, I had to go early in the morning to a Glasgow police station to meet a lawyer and his client. The lawyer was from Edinburgh and very grumpy at having had to get up early to go to Glasgow. We worked together on this case for some time, but the person was found guilty and imprisoned. We, the lawyer and me, got life sentences. Yes reader, I married him!
“I’m often asked what it’s like for someone from abroad coming to Scotland to learn English. Well, for me, it was very different. China in those days was not like it is now. Today, I’d describe China, which I visit once a year, as like a fizzy drink, sparkling with so many commercial colours. Scotland in contrast, is a simpler country. But both are very friendly places, with nice people who will usually help strangers. Scotland is an especially beautiful country and the longer you stay here the more you appreciate the countryside and nature around you. I would really recommend that if you want to come to learn English in the UK you should come to Glasgow School of English.”