Last year, I had the honor of living in an 8-by-13-foot room with Yanci Zhang ‘16, who is a fellow physics student from Nanjing (Nanking), China.
Yanci had never been to the United States before coming to Union. Besides English classes in public school and studying on his own time, Yanci had very limited interaction with the English language. Despite all this, he was determined to study in the United States.
Yanci did not return home at all last year until summertime. I asked Yanci how his parents coped with him being more than 12,000 miles away. “It was probably hard for my mom, but I’m an adult now,” he said. “When I decided I wanted to study in the U.S., I told [my parents] that it was my decision.”
Yanci did have the chance to do some traveling stateside, though. Last December, Yanci visited me in Boston. We ate lunch in Chinatown. We visited the U.S.S. Constitution, Faneuil Hall and Harvard Square. I asked Yanci to recall his favorite part of his visit to Boston. Yanci answered, “Eating Chinese food.”
Later on in December, he visited friends in New York City. In March, Yanci flew out to San Francisco to see family friends for a week. “The Chinese food is pretty good there,” he said.
Yanci explained that universities in China are very differentfrom those in the U.S. “We don’t have liberal arts [colleges] in China,” said Yanci. He elaborated that in China, a student might have a hundred, or more likely, a thousand students in a classroom. Smaller class sizes was one of Yanci’s deciding factors in attending Union.One of Yanci’s first surprises upon arriving in the U.S. was the greenery, even in Schenectady.
“The sky is so blue here and the buildings are so low. In China there are sky-scrapers everywhere,” he said. There are many things Yanci still misses from home, though.
Yanci said, “I’d rather go back home for food. That’s my biggest motivation to go back. Food is a basic requirement. When we have something to eat our life is so much better.” When asked about American Chinese food, Yanci said, “I don’t think that’s Chinese food. Too much sugar, too much oil; that’s unhealthy.”
Initially, it was very difficult for Yanci and I to have conversations. Yanci explained that in Chinese, people say fewer words than in English, and one must make many assumptions. “We think on two or three levels. Americans say the whole sentence,” said Yanci.I asked him what had been his favorite part of last year. Yanci said, “We had tea every day. You were a great roommate.”