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President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in January 2011

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at Howard University urging American students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities in China. It’s all part of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” which aims to increase the number of students studying in China by making it more affordable through scholarships and programs. It was launched during President Obama’s 2009 trip to China, and unlike other initiatives, it relies solely on private-sector donations.

 

Michelle Obama speaking at Howard University last week

During her speech, the First Lady emphasized that “studying in countries like China is about so much more than just improving your own prospects in the global market. The fact is with every friendship you make and every bond of trust you establish you are shaping an image of America projected to the rest of the world.”

As someone who studied abroad in Hong Kong, I fully support this initiative because studying abroad is the most humbling, life-changing experience. In fact, I urge college students to take advantage of these opportunities to study abroad in China – or anywhere in the world. You will not regret it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to explain in words how much my life – and world perspective – changed after studying abroad. Yet I’ve come up with a few things that I learned during and after my experience:

1. Living in a city is different than visiting.
When you live in a city for an extended period of time, it’s a completely different experience than being a tourist for a few days. Living in a city forces you to mingle with the local people – in restaurants, marketplaces, riding the MTR or public transportation, and school. When this happens, you learn about their culture, mannerisms, values and language. For me, riding the MTR every single day was one of the greatest learning experiences for me. I observed and listened to the Hong Kong people, and after a while, I began to blend in with them. You don’t get to experience this as a tourist.

2. You develop a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.
When you live in Asia, you witness all levels of living conditions from rural villages to metropolitan cities. I was given the opportunity to teach English in Zengcheng, China (see post here), backpack throughout Vietnam and Cambodia (post here), as well as visit thriving cities such as Seoul and Shanghai. When you travel to these cities, you develop a deep sense of appreciation for everything you have in America: freedom, democracy, a stable government, education, and endless opportunities to follow your aspirations and dreams. After witnessing some rural conditions, especially in Cambodia, it made me reflect on these simple freedoms that I took for granted beforehand.

3. China is now a major focus of the world – and the future.
China is a country filled with opportunity and adventure, especially now because it is a major focus of the world. Companies are moving to China while others are growing exponentially, the economy is booming, and opportunities are plentiful. By studying abroad in China, you can experience firsthand what it’s like to live there, and you can immerse yourself in this pool of opportunity.

4. Mandarin is the world’s most spoken language.
More people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese than any other language. English is the second most spoken language. While in college, I noticed that more and more students were enrolling in Mandarin classes, especially those from the USC Marshall School of Business.

5. Learning a new language can be beneficial for your job hunt after college.
What better way to learn another language than living in a city where it is spoken all around you? Textbooks and classrooms can only teach you so much. Using the language on a daily basis is KEY to becoming conversational and fluent. When you learn a new language, you become that much more multi-dimensional. It looks great on job applications.

6. Our world is becoming increasingly inter-connected.
With the internet and social media as powerful forces, our world is becoming increasingly “smaller and smaller” (not literally, but figuratively speaking). People are now connected more than ever, news travels fast, businesses and companies are working together overseas, and the need for people with international experience is a plus. When I was abroad, I met so many European and Americans living in Hong Kong with various companies. They all told me it was important to immerse yourself in the growing global economy. Studying abroad is one way to do this, so take advantage of these opportunities while you’re young!

7. You learn to become independent.
When I reflect on my time abroad, I think the biggest transformation was becoming more independent. A more independent thinker, decision-maker, and person overall. I will forever be grateful for this experience. When I left Los Angeles for Hong Kong, I didn’t know anybody. I had never lived anywhere else besides LA, and that is all I ever knew. I was going into unchartered territories. But when you’re living in a new city, you’re forced to make your own decisions. You have to ask for directions on the MTR. You have to ask taxi drivers to take you to your next destination. You have to order food at local restaurants, and ask others for good recommendations. It opens your mind and soul to your own personal capabilities, and it brings out the best of YOU.

8. You make lifelong friends and share a special bond.
I feel incredibly lucky and grateful for meeting the most incredible group of friends in Hong Kong. My experience wouldn’t be half as wonderful had I not met these people. We explored the city together, ate together, traveled around Asia together, and had unforgettable memories. You form a special bond with these people that nobody will understand because it is an experience that only you went through. Even after this experience, we share memories and get together as much as possible. We will forever share a very special bond that cannot be explained in words.

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On May 14th, I graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in broadcast journalism and a minor in business entrepreneurship. It’s difficult to truly describe my feelings about graduation, but I would have to say that I am forever grateful, thankful and humbled by the opportunity to attend my dream school. These years exceeded my expectations by far, and there is no doubt in my mind that the education I received at USC is priceless.  It was a time of tremendous personal growth, so I am thankful to everyone that was part of my life – and will continue – to be part of my life from here on out.

My dream of going to USC was cultivated at a young age when I would attend football games with my family since we had season tickets every single year. My dad is a USC alumnus, so I suppose you could say I was born into the Trojan family. During game days, we would tailgate on campus, and I’d walk through campus – marveling at the sea of cardinal and gold – hoping that one day I’d be able to attend USC. Now, many years later, I am humbled by this journey that started when I was just a little girl.

The one thing that I value the most about USC is the people. The people at USC are such well rounded, driven, passionate individuals. It’s hard to explain it in words, but you can feel the vibe when you’re around people. I went to a highly competitive high school where it was cut throat and individualistic – it was all about being the best in terms of grade point average, SAT scores and who got into the best university. I realized much later on that this was not a conducive, positive learning environment. But at USC, when you’re surrounded by people who follow their passions in life and value networking and interpersonal skills, it makes you become that type of person. I let go of the attitude of “getting the best grades and GPA” and followed my passion in life, which is journalism. When you love what you’re studying, it makes learning such an incredible, fun experience. Class isn’t a boring, mundane thing; it’s something you look forward to.

With that being said, I believe college was as great as it was because of my fond experiences in the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. I spent many hours and long nights in the digital lab, editing my news stories and projects for classes. I spent weekends filming and interviewing people, always on the lookout for a story to tell. My professors were so supportive and wonderful, and it is truly an amazing experience to be around motivated, like-minded people who share similar passions to you. Journalism is changing quite rapidly, but I truly believe my education at Annenberg has prepared me for the “real world.”

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Last, but certainly not least, graduation day is a time to celebrate it with those who helped you throughout college. I am very thankful to have parents who have been so supportive during the course of my education. They never pressured me to do anything, and weren’t the typical Asian parents who got upset at their kids if they didn’t get straight A’s, forced them to play the piano, or go to after-school tutors. Instead, I think I had a well-rounded, balanced upbringing. So I am forever grateful and indebted to them for the opportunities they have provided me with, and I could not have gone through college without their support.

Thanks USC…For everything!

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