A YOUNG man from Basingstoke has returned home from the adventure of a lifetime – having spent the last four years in China after falling in love with his pen-pal.

Joshua Webb had been interested in the country since the age of 14.

He began writing to Sophie Su in 2007 after advertising for a pen-pal on a Chinese website, and the pair fell for each other through their regular letter exchanges.

Joshua resolved to secure a place at a Chinese university so he could be closer to Sophie.

But this meant improving his Chinese speaking, which was “practically non-existent”, up to a level where he could confidently speak, read and write.

Joshua completed his A-levels and successfully applied for a course in Chinese and economics at Xiamen University, in the Fujian province of China, near to where 26-year-old Sophie lived.

For the first year, in 2009, he spent all of his time immersed in learning Mandarin, which is notoriously hard for Westerners to master.

He then successfully completed the three-year degree and graduated, but his relationship with Sophie’s family was not so straight-forward.

The 23-year-old said: “She introduced me to her family which is very unusual – usually this does not happen in Chinese families until a couple are to be married.

“When it comes to getting married, they wanted Sophie to find someone who had graduated, who had a job and a home.”

But Joshua mastered the language and Sophie’s family came to accept their relationship.

In September, Joshua returned home to his parents in Renown Way, Chineham, and now he and Sophie are trying to find a way to be together again.

Joshua said: “It is very hard for her to get a visa to come to the UK, even if we were to get married.

“I may try to get a working visa to teach English in China, but at the moment we don’t know if that will be possible. It is very difficult.”

Depending on whether they build a life together in England or China, Joshua hopes to work either in teaching, translating or to secure work with a Chinese company in the UK.

He said of his experiences in China: “It has been a life-changing experience.

“I would never have been able to do it if it wasn’t for my parents supporting me financially, and I am very grateful to them.”