Advice for freshmen from Abroad Who Want to Study in China
College is your chance to see what you’ve been missing, both in the outside world and within yourself. Use this time to explore as much as you can.
Take classes in many different subjects before picking your major. Try lots of different clubs and activities. Make friends with people who grew up much poorer than you, and others much richer. Date someone of a different race or religion. (And no, hooking up at a party doesn’t count.) Spend a semester abroad or save up and go backpacking in Europe or Asia.
Somewhere in your childhood is a gaping hole. Fill this hole. Don’t know what classical music is all about? That’s bad. Don’t know who Lady Gaga is? That’s worse. If you were raised in a protected cocoon, this is the time to experience the world beyond.
College is also a chance to learn new things about yourself. Never been much of a leader? Try forming a club or a band.
The best things I did in college all involved explorations like this. I was originally a theater major but by branching out and taking a math class I discovered I actually liked math, and I enjoyed hanging out with technical people.
By dabbling in leadership — I ran the math club and directed a musical — I learned how to formulate a vision and persuade people to join me in bringing it to life. Now I’m planning to become an entrepreneur after graduate school. It may seem crazy, but it was running a dinky club that set me on the path to seeing myself as someone who could run a business.
Try lots of things in college. You never know what’s going to stick.
— TIM NOVIKOFF, Ph.D. student in applied mathematics at Cornell
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Chances are, if you are taking the time to read this advice, you already have the quality necessary to undertake the intellectual challenges of a college education — a seriousness of purpose. What I want to speak to is much more mundane, but it will make your transition into college easier: amid the thrill and vertigo of change, be kind to and patient with yourself.
Remember to take some time away from campus — from the demands of schoolwork and the trappings of the college social life. Explore the town you’re living in. Meet people who are not professors or fellow students. If you spend all of your time on school grounds, then it becomes too easy for the criticism from an occasional unkind professor or the conflict with a roommate to take on a monstrous scale. And to let that happen is to suffer from a mistake of emphasis; college should be a part of, but not the entire scope of, your existence for the next few years.
In Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” characters are troubled and traumatized by their inability to maintain a proper “sense of proportion”; ordinary tasks — life itself, for one of the characters — become outsized and unmanageable.
I mention this not because I think your situation will be so dire if you don’t heed my advice, but mostly because “Mrs. Dalloway” is a great read, and I highly recommend it.
— WILLIE X. LIN, student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis
• • •
Universities are places where facts are made. Research is a collaborative process, so scientists need lab assistants, humanities researchers need library aides and graduate students need all the help they can get. A curious, competent undergraduate can always find work assisting a researcher.
Regardless of the field and the specific project, helping them helps you. The obvious benefits are new skills and invaluable experience. But there is also something powerful in seeing how the right experimental or analytical approach can sort through a mess of observations and opinion to identify real associations between phenomena, like a gene variant and a disease, or a financial tool and the availability of credit. With a window into the world of research, you will find yourself thinking more critically, accepting fewer assertions at face value and perhaps developing an emboldened sense of what you can accomplish.
Most important: research experience shows you how knowledge is produced. There are worse ways to prepare for life in an information age.
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