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‘My English lessons have made all the difference’

Shi Juan Gu relaxes in the British Red Cross refugee centre at Newport. As she laughs and chats with friends, it’s hard to imagine the journey she’s made in just a few years.

These days, the 27-year-old speaks reasonably good English and feels confident that she’ll be able to build a good life for her family.

It’s all a far cry from when she first arrived in the UK just years ago – with no understanding of the language or culture, and utterly alone. Even now, she remembers that as a terrifying experience.

‘Difficult time’

Shi Juan fled China after her father, who had numerous gambling debts, tried to push her into a forced marriage with a much older man.

Arriving in London, she lived for months in cramped accommodation where people slept ten to a room. She recalled: “I didn’t know anyone and, with no English, didn’t understand anything. It was very difficult.
“But then I met my husband. He was also from China, and we became friends and supported one another. It was so nice to have someone to rely on.”

‘More confident’

Three years ago, the couple were moved by the Home Office to Newport. On the very same day she arrived in Wales, her son Yuze Weng was born.

It was a difficult time in yet another new place, and Shi Juan worried about her new baby’s future prospects: “I asked how I could help my child with his school work when I couldn’t speak the language myself.”

But when her son was one year old, Shi Juan joined an English for beginners’ class at the refugee centre, which includes a crèche and is funded by the Welsh Government. She quickly picked up the language and has now graduated to the intermediate class.

She said: “The lessons have been so useful and I’ve met lots of new people. My son is also learning English words in the crèche – he already knows his animals and colours.”

She added: “I feel much more confident now I’m able to communicate with people. I don’t need an interpreter anymore, and no longer worry about helping my children with their school work.

“The Red Cross has helped us to make a new life in Newport.”

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