Writing profile features: Stephy

Can a group of 20 students save a factory from closing? Xudong Tseng, a 21-year old MA Journalism student at University of Westminster, knows that the answer is “Yes”.

Stephy – as her classmates call her – might look tiny and defenceless, but do not be deceived by the appearance. In her free time, she used to lead projects that brightened the world of hundreds of poor people in China.

Her life was quite ordinary for 17 years. She was born in a small city at the north of China, in what you might call a traditional Chinese family.

“My family is rather old-fashioned, but in a good way. My parents taught me to respect elderly people, be kind to children, be polite and amiable,” says Stephy. “And I was quite shy, too, often preferring to follow an example rather than make my own choice.”

Everything changed in 2006, when she joined SIFE (standing for Students in Free Enterprise), an international non-profit organisation that encourages students to make a difference in their communities by helping people in need.

“In fact, I didn’t plan it. I just stumbled upon that ‘new recruitment’ poster with young guys in suits, all looking so fancy and professional that you couldn’t resist the urge to join them, just to look as cool.” Stephy is very sincere and modest when talking about her reasons to join the organisation, but those seem to be the core traits of her character.

“So I became a SIFE freshman and found out that what those guys did was in fact hard work,” she says.

One project they worked on was trying to save an important cultural heritage – soy sauce. The ancient Chinese tradition of making this famous dressing was vanishing in their neighbourhood because the local factory had no funds to buy new equipment and bring in advanced management technologies. Stephy and her team-mates stepped in and built the bridges between the factory and shop chains, pushing up sales.

“We also set up retail outlets near major tourist sights. We often had to stay up late and felt sleepy during the day, sometimes we even skipped our classes,” Stephy smiles – a rare smile – when she remembers her days with SIFE, “but I fell in love with what we were doing”.

During her third year with University and SIFE, Stephy won the elections and became the President of the team. This meant a great step in her personal development. And a huge responsibility.

“No one cares what students have to say about local businesses, so you should develop great projects and be really persuasive,” Stephy sounds passionate now as she talks about projects she was involved in, “There is a stereotype that if you are a student, you know nothing about real life. Breaking down such stereotypes is not fancy, it’s hard work. But it is extremely fulfilling, it makes you feel happy when you help people.”

Stephy confesses she is now much more confident and organised than she used to be, and feels far more comfortable when approaching strangers.

Having just graduated from University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, she is facing a new challenge – a MA course in Journalism, her latest passion.

“I would love to eventually get into magazine production, to become a lifestyle and fashion journalist”, says Stephy.

And, judging by her stylish look, determination and a great appetite to learning, she will do a good one.

* Pictures by Yue Yu


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