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International student gives back to ‘welcoming community’

An international student from the University of East Anglia (UEA) has been distributing face masks to the elderly after he felt so welcomed by the community while studying in Norwich. 

Student Songze Chang who is from Shanxi in China began to distribute face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, after he was stopped while wearing one in the supermarket by an elderly man who had been looking to buy them in shops.

He said: “In that moment I felt that I really needed to help him” said Songze. “Later on, I bought 100 face masks from China online and packed them up including some positive messages and an image of my national flag.”

“My friends and I started to give them out in Norwich, many of whom told us they didn’t have access to the internet to buy them. People were surprised and receptive to our offer and thanked us, many putting them on straight away as they entered supermarkets.”

The student who is 24 years old, posted his efforts on social media site TikTok and people, some of whom he didn’t even know, started to generously send him more masks to distribute. So far he has received around 8000 face masks from Chinese people who were inspired by his actions.

As he received more and more masks he decided to donate them to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Earlham Police station and local care homes.

Songze who lives in West Earlham and is studying a year-long postgraduate course in global media economics says since he began his studies here in September 2019, he’s felt the Norwich community has been friendly and inviting towards him.

He said: “People always speak to me who are interested in my home country, how living in the UK is different and what I want to do after my studies. I am very thankful to be living in such a safe, kind and welcoming community where everyone embraces international students.”

Songze has been worried about his family who live in Shanxi in Northern China, where the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, but has been busying himself with his studies which have continued online.

Students from around 130 countries live, work and study in Norwich at UEA. Among a population of 17,000 students, around 900 are from different areas of mainland China. 

Karen Blackney, Head of the International Office, said: “When I heard about this, I was so delighted that in these challenging times, an international student from UEA has reached out to help others in our Norfolk community. 

“What an amazing example of a humanitarian act that crosses all boundaries; nothing exemplifies more clearly that we are all in this together and that our common humanity can and should win through. Congratulations to Songze and thank you for your generosity and kindness.”

Study economics at UEA