A Tale of Two Cities
25 May 2018
Yanji is a small Chinese city located within a stone’s throw of the North Korean border, given its location Yanji has had a challenging history and while officially part of China, a substantial part of its population is ethnic Korean.
Queensland’s Gold Coast has a similar population size to Yanji and is also a border town, but it’s untroubled by any ethnic differences, quite the opposite as a multicultural city that embraces diversity – even accommodating those annoying New South Wales’ rugby league fans from across the border despite a fierce footballing rivalry.
Xinglong Jin grew up in Yanji as a Chinese national where he was often treated like an outsider in his own country. “The other ethnic groups in the city are suspicious of Chinese people. There’s this perception that Chinese people are bad – we’re all terrorists or something. We’re all stereotyped as smugglers or even killers, but of course that’s not true, though they don’t understand that. When you live with that kind of stigma it’s a very difficult environment.”
Xinglong comes from a humble background. His parents weren’t well educated - as the first member of his family to undertake a university education it’s an incredible honour, but to be doing it in a foreign country is nothing less than extraordinary. “Being the first to study at university is a huge achievement for me and I’m very proud of that. Now when I have children I want them to study overseas as well.”
It’s not just Xinglong and his future children with designs on overseas experiences, his mum has remarried and now lives in South Korea: “she wanted to move to another city that offered better education and community services.”
As a Business student at Southern Cross University that’s now also a Mayor’s Student Ambassador how much does his mum understand about the transformation of his life since moving to the Gold Coast? “Only 5 or 10%. It’s strange, but she has no concept of what the Gold Coast really is – that’s why I want her to come here, so that she can experience this community and the beautiful surrounding natural environment.”
The cultural environment here would be very foreign to Xinglong’s mum too. “In Yanji there are a number of different Asian cultures, along with many people from different Chinese minority groups, but here on the Gold Coast people come from so many different places – there’s so much more diversity. I’ve met people from Europe, South America, North America, Africa – to me it’s just amazing.”
Even though Xinglong learnt English grammar at school in China, he didn’t learn to speak English until he came to the Gold Coast. “I did an English course at Griffith College and that’s been a wonderful experience in itself, but I chose to do Business at Southern Cross University because I wanted to study near the beach. I just love the lifestyle.”
It’s not just the lifestyle that Xinglong has fallen in love with, he’s also developed a keen interest in Salsa dancing. “I took it up because I thought I would have a better chance of meeting girls (laughs). I wanted to build my confidence because I’m really quite shy. The great thing about Salsa dancing is that it forces you to adopt a more outgoing personality. Now I can go out to a club and confidently ask girls to dance!”
It would appear that the Caribbean dance form isn’t the only multicultural influence that Xinglong has adopted into his new life, he’s also decided to change his first name to Gino. “It’s funny, people say to me: ‘you don’t look Italian – why are you called Gino?’ I just like the sound of the name, it’s mine now.”
It’s been a long journey for this young man from China with a new identity and he couldn’t be happier. “Here, people don’t care where you come from, it’s who you are that matters. You can just be yourself without being judged and that’s given me so much confidence – it allows me to express myself more.”
When Gino talks about his new life and his new home his enthusiasm is infectious. “I love the Gold Coast! Gold Coasters are the warmest people in the world. They are very kind. When you say g’day to people the smile and say hello back to you. In my home city in China that never happens. You can’t say ‘hi’ to a stranger there, they would think that was very suspicious.
“The other thing is that it’s just a really good vibe here. When I’m studying at Southern Cross University I see people in their 30’s and 40’s who are studying and that’s so cool, you don’t see that in China - I think it’s inspiring. A few years ago the world’s oldest university graduate completed his studies at Southern Cross – he was 97! That’s incredible!”
As one of the Mayor’s Student Ambassadors Gino is relishing the opportunity to represent his new home. “It’s amazing, the Ambassadors come from so many different backgrounds – I’ve learnt so much from them. The program really does embrace diversity.
“In the future I’d love to work with the Gold Coast community and promote the city more. I’d be happy to work with international students, especially people from Chinese backgrounds. I’d like to help them improve their English skills and get out of their comfort zones. I also want to become a permanent resident – I love this city.”