Julie Cheung-Inhin's story
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( JULIE CHEUNG-INHIN )

Julie’s parents are from a small Chinese community established in Mauritius, most of Hakka descent who emigrated whilst the island was still under British rule. Her parents moved from the island to the UK, settling in the suburbs of London. In her role as Deputy Head of Graduate Research for the University of London, Julie has seen firsthand a shift in British Born Chinese degree choices away from traditional science-based subjects to a broader choice in recent years.

EXTRA IMAGES

  • Julie family 1
  • Julie family 2
  • Julie family 3
  • Julie family 4
  • Julie family 6
  • Julie family 9
  • Julie family 10
  • Julie family 5
  • Julie family 7
  • Julie family 8

INTERVIEW AUDIO EXCERPTS

THE ABRIDGED INTERVIEW ( Full Interview )

THE FULL INTERVIEW ( Abridged Interview )

Hi, I’m Julie Cheung-Inhin. I’m British Born Chinese and my parents are from Mauritius.

Julie, do you want to tell us a bit about your family and your parents’ upbringing?

Both my mum and my dad were born in Mauritius. My dad moved to the UK in the 1960s so he was still very young; it was before he was twenty, so he’s actually been in England for longer than he’s been in Mauritius. He went back to Mauritius for a bit, met and got married to my mum, and then they both moved here. In terms of their upbringing, they’ve had quite a normal Mauritian-Chinese upbringing. My grandparents moved from China a long time ago and they had to work hard in Mauritius. I suppose the reason they came to England was just to build a new life.

"I suppose it’s what every parent wants for their children - to be able to have a stable income. They probably felt it more severely because of their own lack of higher education."

What do you know about their working life in the UK when they moved here?

My mum has always been a homemaker. She brought up my brother and I whilst my dad worked in quite a lot of different jobs. At one point he did the telephone exchange in Holborn doing telecommunications for phone wires. Then he worked as a waiter a few times, and then he also became a driving instructor. He became a bus driver and then he was a bus-driver instructor. That took him to a more senior role with the bus company and then he retired. When he first started in the UK, he had lots of different little jobs, as you’d expect from someone who’s starting a new life. He had a few Mauritian friends who had the same job, so they did things together. At the telephone exchange, for example, there were some other Mauritians there too.

How was your own upbringing in the UK?

I was born in the UK. I was brought up in the Eighties, so I had a normal Eighties upbringing: hair on the side and so on! I went to a private school in Sutton; I was one of the very last people who were able to get a government scheme assisted place. I managed to get that because being new to the country our family income wasn’t exactly high. My parents didn’t go to university. My mum, although she is very clever, didn’t get a chance to be educated because her dad died when she was still young, so she had to do a lot of manual work growing up. So in that sense my parents didn’t have intellectual skills that they could put to use in jobs. I suppose I was lucky that I was able to build on my education. After school, I then went to UCL and did a Law degree, and now I’m working at the Careers Group, University of London.

"We still have some family in mainland China from South China – Moyanne it’s called, in Hakka. But the connections are so lost we probably wouldn’t know who they are."

That’s probably the kind of hopes that they had for me, getting an academic upbringing and then going into work. I suppose it’s what every parent wants for their children - to be able to have a stable income, and I don’t think my parents were any different from that. They probably felt it more severely because of their own lack of being able to have access to higher education and just education in general.

Do you ever feel more associated with French-Mauritian culture than Chinese culture?

Obviously the Mauritian culture has a lot of French culture in it, so I do feel quite affiliated with France. Creole sounds very French when it’s spoken and my name has French roots. My gut instinct is that I feel more Mauritian; I think that the Mauritian-ness of me is highlighted more when I’m with all my friends from Hong Kong and China - when I can feel the difference in our experiences and our cultures. We still have some family in mainland China because they came from South China – Moyanne it’s called, in Hakka. I think we have some ancestors there, but the connections are so lost we probably wouldn’t know who they are.

When I meet other Chinese people, they will usually say something to me in Chinese and I have a bit of a “hmm…sorry, I don’t really speak Chinese” moment, and then feel slightly apologetic that you don’t speak it. I often then feel like I need to explain my heritage. I’ll say something like, “But I do speak other languages, I DO speak Creole!”. I don’t think many mainland Chinese have heard of Mauritius, so they usually think I’ve said Malaysia. But when it comes to the language, I have had a few people say things like, “Aw, well, it’s not your fault that you don’t speak Chinese,” and while they mean it in a nice way, I often feel like that means that they think it’s a fault of mine.

Can you tell us about your work now for the University of London?

I run a project called ‘The Survey’ which is about graduate destinations. Every graduate from university has to be surveyed six months after graduation to find out what kind of work they’re doing. I think generally speaking Chinese students do tend to still go for subjects that are traditionally academic, such medicine, dentistry and maths. What’s interesting is that for other ethnicities, subjects that are allied to medicine like nursing and physiotherapy are also popular. But when it comes to the British Born Chinese, they seem to be less interested in that, and so the data suggests that they tend to be aiming for doctors and dentists rather than nurses and so on.

"When I go to Mauritius, the aunties always say, “You should go meet this guy”. And it never turns out well! I find even the Mauritian-Chinese are too different for me. They have a more traditional outlook there and I don’t think I would fit in."

As to why that is, it’s difficult to say whether it’s because their parents have instilled in them the goal of a prestigious job, or whether they do actually genuinely want to just do be a doctor or dentist more than other ethnicities. But as my generation has become more financially stable, maybe the next generation might well be more open to doing less traditional jobs and courses. But we’ll wait and see.

How do you feel about your own relationship future - is there a particular type of person that you want to marry?

To me it doesn’t matter what ethnicity they are or anything like that. When I go to Mauritius sometimes it’s really embarrassing: the aunties and uncles always say, “Do you know what, there’s this guy, you should go and meet him”. And it never turns out very well! I find that even those Mauritian-born Mauritian-Chinese are a bit too different for me. They have a more traditional outlook on life there and I don’t think I would fit in.

What have been your parents’ reactions to previous boyfriends? What did they want for you?

I’ve never really spoken to them about boyfriends. I’m quite a secretive person when it comes to that side of my life, and one of the reasons is that I know that my parents have very high expectations of who I should marry or go out with. There’s a hierarchy of who would be best for me in that sense. A lot of people might just think a Chinese boyfriend is preferable to them, but it’s not that simple. At the top it would be Mauritian-Chinese and then it would be possibly mainland Chinese - those might be quite close together, and then there’s probably a big drop; it’ll be Hong-Kong Chinese, then possibly white…anything other than that they wouldn’t like at all!

I think the reason they would prefer a mainland Chinese compared to a White British is because they have this idea of their identity being part of the Chinese ‘motherland’. Despite being in the UK for longer than they’ve ever lived in Mauritius, and despite not speaking Mandarin, which is the language of the motherland, they feel that there’s something there that they just take with them. That means that we have something in common with the mainland Chinese, that would mean that we could build a life together.

Hi, I’m Julie Cheung-Inhin. I’m British Born Chinese and my parents are from Mauritius.

Julie, do you want to tell us a bit about your family and your parents’ upbringing?

Both my mum and my dad were born in Mauritius. My dad moved to the UK in the 1960s so he was still very young; it was before he was twenty, so he’s actually been in England for longer than he’s been in Mauritius. He went back to Mauritius for a bit, met and got married to my mum, and then they both moved here. In terms of their upbringing, they’ve had quite a normal Mauritian-Chinese upbringing. My grandparents moved from China a long time ago and they had to work hard in Mauritius. I suppose the reason they came to England was just to build a new life.

"I suppose it’s what every parent wants for their children - to be able to have a stable income. They probably felt it more severely because of their own lack of higher education."

Do you know why your grandparents moved from China to Mauritius?

That’s a good question actually; my brother and I often ask that question to my mum or my dad, and they don’t actually know the answer. I have a feeling that their generation don’t particularly speak much about their reasons for coming here. The odd thing is, I think my grandmother or my mum’s grandmother was actually born in Mauritius, but then at one point they went back to China and lived there before actually moving to Mauritius. So we don’t really know what their actual reasons were, apart just making a new life for themselves in a new country.

What do you know about their working life in the UK when they moved here?

My mum has always been a homemaker. She brought up my brother and I whilst my dad worked in quite a lot of different jobs. At one point he did the telephone exchange in Holborn; it was doing telecommunications for phone wires and so on. Then he worked as a waiter a few times, and then he also became a driving instructor. He became a bus driver and then he was a bus-driver instructor. That took him to a more senior role with the bus company and then he retired. When he first started in the UK, he had lots of different little jobs, as you’d expect from someone who’s starting a new life. He had a few Mauritian friends who had the same job, so they did things together. At the telephone exchange, for example, there were some other Mauritians there too.

How was your own upbringing in the UK?

I was born in the UK. I was brought up in the Eighties, so I had a normal Eighties upbringing: hair on the side and so on! I went to a school in Sutton. It was a private school; I was one of the very last people who were able to get a government scheme assisted place. I managed to get that because being new to the country our family income wasn’t exactly high. My parents didn’t go to university. My mum, although she is very clever, didn’t get a chance to be educated at a high level because her dad died when she was still young, so she had to do a lot of manual work growing up. So in that sense my parents didn’t have intellectual skills that they could put to use in jobs. So I suppose I was lucky that I was able to build on my education. After school, I then went to UCL and did a Law degree, and now I’m working at the Careers Group, University of London.

"We still have some family in mainland China from South China – Moyanne it’s called, in Hakka. But the connections are so lost we probably wouldn’t know who they are."

That’s probably the kind of hopes that they had for me, getting an academic upbringing and then going into work. I suppose it’s what every parent wants for their children - to be able to have a stable income, and I don’t think my parents were any different from that. They probably felt it more severely because of their own lack of being able to have access to higher education and just education in general.

How do you feel about your Chinese identity?

My Chinese identity was not so obvious to me when I was younger, probably because I just felt like any other person when I was at school. The Chinese-ness in me wasn’t really something that I thought about as much until after I’d left university, because that was when I got more involved with the Chinese community and made more friends. But other things to do with my Chinese identity have brought home the fact that I don’t speak Chinese as well, because then I can see the difference between myself as a Mauritian-Chinese I would say, and the Hong Kong-Chinese and the mainland Chinese, and all other different types of Chinese ethnicity.

When I meet other Chinese people, they will usually say something to me in Chinese and I have a bit of a “hmm…sorry, I don’t really speak Chinese” moment, and then feel slightly apologetic that you don’t speak it, when actually you shouldn’t have to feel apologetic. I often then feel like I need to explain my heritage, to explain why I don’t speak Chinese. I’ll say something like, “But I do speak other languages, I DO speak Creole!”. I don’t think many mainland Chinese have heard of Mauritius, so they usually think I’ve said Malaysia. But when it comes to the language, I have had a few people say things like, “Aw, well, it’s not your fault that you don’t speak Chinese,” and while they mean it in a nice way, I often feel like that means that they think it’s a fault of mine.

Do you ever feel more associated with French-Mauritian culture than Chinese culture?

Obviously the Mauritian culture has a lot of French culture in it, so I do feel quite affiliated with France. Creole, for example, sounds very French when it’s spoken and my name has French roots. My gut instinct is that I feel more Mauritian; I think that the Mauritian-ness of me is highlighted more when I’m with all my friends from Hong Kong and China - when I can feel the difference in our experiences and our cultures. We still have some family in mainland China because they came from South China – Moyanne it’s called, in Hakka. I think we have some ancestors there, but the connections are so lost we probably wouldn’t know who they are.

Can you tell us about your work now for the University of London?

I run a project called ‘The Survey’ which is about graduate destinations. Every graduate from university has to be surveyed six months after graduation to find out what kind of work they’re doing. We have all sorts of information, but I think generally speaking Chinese students do tend to still go for subjects that are traditionally academic, such medicine, dentistry and maths. What’s interesting is that for other ethnicities, subjects that are allied to medicine like nursing and physiotherapy are also popular. But when it comes to the British Born Chinese, they seem to be less interested in that, and so the data suggests that they tend to be aiming for doctors and dentists rather than nurses and so on.

"When I go to Mauritius, the aunties always say, “You should go meet this guy”. And it never turns out well! I find even the Mauritian-Chinese are too different for me. They have a more traditional outlook there and I don’t think I would fit in."

As to why that is, it’s difficult to say whether it’s because their parents have instilled in them the goal of a prestigious job, or whether they do actually genuinely want to just do be a doctor or dentist more than other ethnicities. But as my generation has become more financially stable, maybe the next generation might well be more open to doing less traditional jobs and courses. But we’ll wait and see.

Do you plan on having kids, and what kind of values from your own upbringing would you like to pass down to them?

One day I would indeed like to have children, and I would very much like them to have that Mauritian side to them. I’d probably have them go stay with my parents and get them to speak Creole to them - because the Creole language is quite an integral part of the Mauritian culture I would focus on that. But in terms of the Chinese side of me, I don’t really know how that would come through; it’s less tangible for me because I’m so used to it being part of the way I look.

How do you feel about your own relationship future - is there a particular type of person that you want to marry?

When you’re little, you have this amazing ideal, and when you get older you realise it’s not actually real. I think your relationships will tell you what you actually look for in a person. To me it doesn’t matter what ethnicity they are or anything like that. When I go to Mauritius sometimes it’s really embarrassing: the aunties and uncles always say, “Do you know what, there’s this guy, you should go and meet him”. And it never turns out very well! I find that even those Mauritian-born Mauritian-Chinese are a bit too different for me. They have a more traditional outlook on life there and I don’t think I would fit in.

What have been your parents’ reactions to previous boyfriends? What did they want for you?

I’ve never really spoken to them about boyfriends. I’m quite a secretive person when it comes to that side of my life, and one of the reasons is that I know that my parents have very high expectations of who I should marry or go out with. I don’t know if it’s maybe just my parents in particular, but there’s a hierarchy of who would be best for me in that sense. A lot of people might just think a Chinese boyfriend is preferable to them, but it’s not that simple. At the top it would be Mauritian-Chinese and then it would be possibly mainland Chinese - those might be quite close together, and then there’s probably a big drop; it’ll be Hong-Kong Chinese, then possibly white…anything other than that they wouldn’t like at all!

I think the reason they would prefer a mainland Chinese compared to a White British is because they have this idea of their identity being part of the Chinese ‘motherland’. Despite being in the UK for longer than they’ve ever lived in Mauritius, and despite not speaking Mandarin, which is the language of the motherland, they feel that there’s something there that they just take with them. Despite the passing of time or geography that means that we have something in common with the mainland Chinese, that would mean that we could build a life together.