The Spirit

What year are you?

I’m a junior; econ major.

How did you end up at William and Mary?

I’m from China, and I went to an international high school. All of my high school classmates went to US colleges and universities. I applied to a lot of schools and picked William and Mary. I don’t know, I wasn’t familiar with the campus, I had never been here before, so I guess I just wanted something new, something different. Before college, I wanted to major in business and film, and I got an offer from USC, and it was a great Brenna 12c.jpgprogram; they have an amazing business school and the film program is great, but they have too many Chinese students.

So you wanted something different?

Yeah, this place is small. It’s a more defined community. You have closer relationships with everyone. That sounded very intriguing to me.

Was it difficult coming from China and adjusting to life in the US?

I wouldn’t say difficult, but it’s different. I enjoy the freedom I have here in college, not just in the US. You can pick whatever classes you want, if you can get into them. You are in charge of yourself. College is a very life changing period of time for anyone. For the first time, you start to make decisions on your own. You decide what is good to do and what is not. It’s scary because you’re going to be alone making all of those decisions, but also it’s a very challenging and exciting experience because you’re going to be doing that for the rest of your life.

Did you ever consider going to college in China?

I was talking with my friends about going to law school. One of my friends is thinking about taking the LSAT, and I told her that if I was in college in China, I might become a lawyer maybe. Here, I get the opportunity to try new things. I started off wanting to major in film and business, and then I shifted to econ. In China, I might have ended up majoring in English. I don’t know. There’s a lot of possibilities. I never really thought about going to Chinese colleges before I was applying because I’ve grown up watching the Hollywood films. My mom was a huge fan of the TV shows here. I’ve been watching, Friends, How I Met Your Mother; they’re all American. I like the spirit that is shown in those TV shows. The US has always been the one destination I wanted to be for college at least, probably also for graduate school. I wanted to be here and see what it’s like, but now that I’m here, I’m enjoying it, so I might as well stay for a little while.

Are you from a pretty small city or is Williamsburg very different?

Oh, Williamsburg is totally different. It’s so tiny. My hometown is in Xijiang, the Northwest part of China. It’s relatively less developed, compared to Beijing and Shanghai, but it’s still a very urbanized area. I grew up with tall buildings and all that industrial stuff. Then my family moved to Beijing when I was 11 or 12 years old. It was so funny, all the kids were asking, “Did you ride horses to school? Did you live in a desert or in the mountains or something like that?” They thought that all people in Xijiang were nomads. I don’t know why they would say that, but that trend continues now in college. Someone will ask, “Do you ride to school?” I reply, “That would be awesome if I could ride horses to school.”

So what about econ drew you to that major?

In high school I took my first econ class, microeconomics. I had a very good teacher. He would talk about the stock market. How people make their choices; how people are supposed to be rational, making rational decisions. That seemed kind of funny. I never liked math; I’ve always been interested in music and film, so I thought learning econ would give me a more general idea of what the world is, from a business perspective. I want to be in the film or music industry on the business side, so I think taking the econ classes would be helpful if I want to be in those areas.

Econ definitely seems like a more reasonable major, especially here at William and Mary.

Yeah! Our film and media studies program is more literature based. We do have classes based on hands on projects, but the majority of film classes are writing papers, studying what film was like 100 years ago.

Have you taken film classes here at all?

I took a freshmen seminar in film studies. We watched a lot of old films, and I hated that. I mean, it’s not like those were bad films. We had to watch amazing films like Citizen Kane. It was boring to see the history of film. I’m more interested in the modern aspects of film, and now with econ I’m writing a research paper on the film industry, and it was interesting to see how the production and the distribution [of film] works.

What else are you involved in on campus?

I’m in Alpha Kappa Psi, the business fraternity. I’m also in CUSA, the Chinese Undergraduate Student Association, but now it’s CSSA [Chinese Students and Scholars Association]  because we’ve merged with the graduate students. I was VP of CUSA. It was a very valuable, I’d say. We did a lot of stuff for the Spring festival and the Autumn Festival. It was very chaotic when we were doing all of those. Now, it feels like we could’ve done better, but without trying we couldn’t know what we could do. I like being in an organization where I feel valuable. I was doing things that I could not have done on my own.

Through CSSA do you have a goal to educate the William and Mary community about Chinese Culture or is it mainly for yourself?

Both, I’d say. Definitely for myself because I would have the opportunity to know a lot more Chinese students on campus and students at other universities. In a month, we’ll be doing a play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. I’ll be directing it, and people from V-Tech and hopefully UVA and and GMU will be visiting here to see the play. For educating the community about Chinese culture, I know we have a Confucius Institute and they’re doing a lot of stuff, but just during the large events like the Spring and Mid-Autumn festival. Me and the president [of CUSA] wanted to do more stuff for the campus to know about Chinese culture. Last fall, we had a Chinese Night Market here on the Sunken Gardens. We made a lot of Chinese snacks and drinks and little games. Those events were fun for students to be a part of, and it was more of an event to make the campus know about the Chinese student community.

Is there a large community of Chinese students here?

We have about 250 undergraduates and with graduate students it’s about 500 or 600. I’m not sure exactly, but there are
a lot of Chinese people here, and it’s growing fast.

If you have a captive audience of William and Mary students, what would you tell them about Chinese culture and adjusting to life here in the US?

That’s a hard question. I’ll think about it.

I’ve never really thought that my home was my home because my parents were in control, so it was more like my parents home, and here, it’s my place because I’m in complete control of my room, my studying, my free time, my friends. Realizing that is a hard and also exciting thing. You have to adjust yourself to this unfamiliar space, and in doing that you will find what you are looking for. It’s like you have a GPS and you set the destination, and has one route that will take you straight to that place versus when you don’t have one, you face lots of different choices, and you will have a harder time choosing where to go and what to do, but the process of choosing is exciting.

That makes sense. It’s about the journey, about the process. It’s something that you’re now doing by yourself.


Did the school do a good job helping you adjust to life here?

Definitely, I think the Reves Center is doing a great job. It’s fantastic. They’re doing exactly what they should be doing with the visas and the I-20s. The career center has an annual career fair specifically for international students, which is pretty cool. Most employers wouldn’t consider international students because of the visas. For us, it’s much harder to get a job in the US. With a career fair, specifically for international students, we have a slightly better chance. It’s cool that the school recognizes the issue and has this opportunity for us.

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