OA Global Voices

Ronald Torrance (2009),  now lives in China

I was a pupil at St Aloysius’ between 2003 and 2009, where I discovered my interest in English literature in Mr Renton’s classes and

After graduating from the University of Strathclyde with an English and Human Resource Management BA Hons, I worked for a brief period in a software development company in Shanghai, China: a move which would go on to influence both my future career and academic interests.believe his encouragement ultimately led me to pursue my PhD at the University of Strathclyde. I have been fortunate to have continued working alongside Mrs McWilliams as part of the College’s annual Lourdes pilgrimage: first, as a pupil in 2009 and, more recently, returning as an OA with staff and students of the College in 2017-2019.

I returned to Scotland and the University of Strathclyde, completing an MLitt in 2015 under the guidance of Dr Niland. During this time, I began pursuing an interest in Chinese literature, and was encouraged to continue this into a PhD.

Alongside my PhD, I worked full-time, returning to China for shorter periods of travel and study, before taking up a post as a Lecturer at a Double-First University in Henan Province.

If I thought my first landing in Shanghai was challenging, life in China’s Central Plain made it seem like a breeze, in hindsight. The scale of China’s cities, by comparison to Scotland, takes some time to adjust to: there are 94 million people in Henan province alone!

Outwith the “bigger” cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, English isn’t commonly spoken. This can make communication difficult, however, people are generally helpful, and a few simple words or phrases can go a long way towards being understood.

Other than the language, there are a few cultural barriers which take some time getting used to. Mobile phones are everywhere now, but perhaps more so in China than anywhere else. People pay for everything – food, train tickets, even tax and utilities – with mobile apps, and everyone has a QR code of their own which allows you to make person-to-person transactions. 

For its size, China is an unusually well-connected country, and one of the great benefits of being based in a central province isitsaccessibility to other cities. High-speed rail makes travel within China easy and efficient, and being based in this part of the world is ideal for traveling to other countries I never thought I would’ve had the opportunity to visit, such as Nepal, North Korea and, most recently, trailing the route from Lhasa to Mt. Everest in Tibet.

Current events mark where we all find ourselves in the course of history. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted our daily way of life and thrown us into a strange period of global uncertainty. Having experienced lockdown in China, and having hoped the virus would have been contained here, I have watched as it has spread globally.

With this, comes a curious pressure to remain upbeat; easier said than done at a time when we are encouraged to self-isolate from one another. The current situation is affecting different people in different ways, and it’s important for everyone to know that whatever you’re going through, it’s okay to talk about it – everyone reacts differently to different events, and often talking can be an important first step in helping you feel better. Reducing physical contact doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be socially isolated.

I have been encouraged by the camaraderie of colleagues here, in China, and by friends and family back home, and the consolation which small acts of kindness have had in raising people’s spirits despite the lockdown. Technology allows us more than ever to reach out to those closest to us, our families and friends, and teachers, and gives us a space to continue to share the best of our humanity in difficult times. 

I’m hopeful. The strength of the Aloysian community’s shared faith uniquely equips us to be able to get through this unprecedented situation. We must use this time to recall the relationships which bind us as one, shared community, and have faith that we can overcome these challenges together and emerge all the stronger for it.