Night at the Circus: An International Student View on Shopping in Leeds

With a large number of Asian students in Leeds, Meng Xian highlights areas of student life that make fresher’s week seem more of a culture shock than expected. From shopping to cups of tea, this is an insight into the difficulties international students may face when coming to little old Leeds.

It’s September 27th. The Parkinson building’s clock strikes six; my friends and I are stuck in a crowd of people. It almost feels like a river, and we are in a boat drifting downstream. Laughing, yelling and talking all at once, the sounds of the masses surround us like a storm. It feels like our figurative boat is strayed; until suddenly the harbor, Trinity shopping mall, is right in front of us, and we feel somewhat at peace.

We’re three girls, all from China. When we arrive at the shopping centre we look at each other feeling numb and frozen, half from the cold autumn wind and half from our failure to become locals. The two girls next to me left China two days ago, and I have been in Leeds for two short weeks. To get involved with student activities and the city, we decided to join Trinity Student Night; we assumed that shopping is the same wherever you are in the world, and it would therefore be an easy task to conquer, compared to other cultural barriers that we have encountered. However, we are terribly wrong.


 Shopping is very different in China than in Leeds. Although both places share the many discounts and endless consumers, queuing in shops has become surprisingly usual in my home country. With over half of the world’s products being made in China, shoppers are used to cheap products and regular sales. Stores also like to attract people with discounts at least once a month by using festivals or social media to appeal to young people. The many discounts lead to a great demand from custumers, and of course this contributes to many people engaging in shopping every day. Because China has such a big population, everywhere can feel crowded at any time. Always having to queue is normal to most Chinese people, but it doesn’t mean that they enjoy the activity, especially not the impatient, young generation.

In China, shopping has now turned into a daunting competitive activity that one participates in with strangers that just want the same products as you. It is no longer a personal, social experience.

Even though shopping can seem like a universal and easy concept I realized how, even this simplest of concepts differs from culture to culture. I found this from attempting to find comfort in the familiarity of shopping in the big, unknown city of Leeds. I recognized that everything in a new country would be very different for me after all. I would have to adjust to a different lifestyle in a European city. Shopping is an insignificant part of my day-to-day life, one I often engage in online, but the realisation of how different it could be in a new country still baffled me.

I wondered how bigger things, such as education, socializing and language would challenge me during the next couple of years.

It’s September 27th, I am still in the Trinity shopping centre, and stop my daydreaming to observe my surroundings. Girls and boys flood into shops while talking loudly, and having a good time. The other three girls and I observe queue after queue and it is making all of us quite dizzy. We decide to go back home to our accommodation. We sit on the sofa with a cup of tea, and feel that it is the better choice for us—we are too tired and overwhelmed to spend our time in queues like many Brits apparently enjoy doing; luckily the comfort of the tea makes us feel a little more settled and calm.

Meng Xian

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