International Student of the YearChinese student Yu Huai Zhang’s inspirational story of his experiences at Queen’s University Belfast and in Northern Ireland has earned him the title of International Student of the Year 2007. Yu Huai, who is known as Neo to his fellow students, beat off stiff competition from more than 2000 students representing 130 nationalities, to win the title and the £2,000 prize.

The competition - the British Council annual Shine International Student Awards - highlights the unique contributions of international students to life in the United Kingdom. Neo, who comes from Shenzhen and who studies Management at Queen’s, had previously been named Northern Ireland’s International Student of the Year.

The first Chinese national to become a student officer at Queen’s, Neo has been active in promoting multi-culturalism and diversity by organising events, writing articles for the University’s newspapers and presenting a talk-show on Queen’s Radio. As Deputy Convenor of the National Union of Students and Student Union of Ireland (NUS-USI), he organised a cross-campus “Multicultural Awareness Training” event, which resulted in his being asked to help translate a prisoners’ handbook into Mandarin and Cantonese. He also served as NUS-USI’s Student Volunteering Officer.

During his internship with Invest Northern Ireland he was voted Best Newcomer 2006 by his colleagues, in recognition of both his work performance and his commitment to voluntary activities.

Congratulating Neo on his achievement, Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson described him as ‘a role model’ for all students.

Professor Gregson said: “Neo’s enthusiasm for university life and his commitment to raising the profile of international students and promoting the benefits of a multi-cultural student body have been exceptional. Queen’s is proud of its international students who do so much to enrich the university experience for all of us. Neo’s well-deserved success reflects the contribution which these students make, not only to life at Queen’s, but to Northern Ireland as a whole.”

Neo said: “I am very privileged and exhilarated to win this award. It will spur me on to contribute more and fulfil my dream to become an entrepreneur.

“I came to Queen’s because I wanted to experience a different culture and Queen’s is a very good university with a long history, more than 150 years. I have really enjoyed my time here and I am delighted that sharing the story of my Queen’s experience helped me to win this award.’

Entrants to the competition were asked to write a personal ‘letter home’ in English, detailing the out-of-class achievements that helped make their time in the United Kingdom so rewarding. Neo recounted his experiences at Queen’s in a letter to his father.

The Rt Hon Lord Neil Kinnock, Chair of The British Council, said; “All the students’ stories have been detailed, perceptive - and sometimes very moving - personal accounts. All have been impressive pieces of work, providing thousands of fine examples of how international students engage in an almost endless variety of extra-curricular activities to add value to their education and to enrich their personal development, their confidence, independence of mind, and understanding of humanity.
“The International Student Awards show how much our campuses and communities would lose if we didn’t have that diversity of cultures, talents and ideas from all over the planet.”