Zhiyan Yang '13
Tell us about your international journey.
I came to America for the first time as a Freshman of Sarah Lawrence College. As it turns out, it is a life-changing decision for me. Before Sarah Lawrence College, I spent twenty years or so almost exclusively in two cities: Hangzhou and Shanghai, China. I went to Hangzhou Foreign Language School for my high school and Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade for college for two years before I made my mind to start over my college career in America.
What made you want to attend college in the U.S.? What, if any, concerns/challenges/opportunities did this present?
I quit my college in China because it seemed to be a dead end for me. The education there was not bad, but it was not the right one for me. I was studying economics there but everything I studied was supposed to prepare me for a career in either finance or economics later. Comparing to the undergraduate education in China, I figured that college in the U.S. would give me more freedom to explore my true passions, namely, architecture, history, art, and writing. At the stage of applying, I faced all sorts of challenges. For example, I had to fly to Hong Kong and Singapore to take standardized tests, since they were not offered in Mainland China. I also had a difficult time finding accurate and useful information about U.S. colleges. I think today things have changed considerably, as more students from Mainland China have managed to come to the U.S. and cultural and educational exchanges have been much more effective and vibrant than ever.
How did you learn about Sarah Lawrence College?
I went to an art exhibit of Yoko Ono in Shanghai and was deeply impressed by it. I was amazed by her creativity and her eloquence of expressing herself in the visual form. I was curious about the education she received so I did some research. After that I was further convinced by the kind of liberal arts education offered by SLC.
What made you choose to attend SLC?
Among the colleges that admitted me, SLC seemed to be the most competitive one for various reasons: a generous financial package, its strong curriculum and faculty, and its vicinity to the cultural vibrancy of New York City.
What were your areas of concentration?
I started out studying architectural history and theory with my don, Professor Joseph Forte, and was greatly impacted by his way of thinking, not to mention his incredible knowledge and passion towards art and architecture. I have been studying art history and cultural anthropology ever since, hoping to be able to treat history poetically and critically at the same time. Besides my main concentration, I spent two years studying Japanese language, taking two years of analog photography with Joel Sternfeld, and a semester of Chinese Women’s history with Kevin Landdeck. I also managed to audit some of the very interesting classes here, including Oyama Sayuri’s Japanese Literature, and Malcolm Turvey’s Film Theories. In my junior year, I went abroad to the SLC Oxford program. I was able to spend my year at Oxford University. Both the academic and cultural experience proved to be fruitful. And it was the year at Oxford that gave me a better idea of what to do next and how to achieve it in my life.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
I played on the basketball team for four semesters, and have met some of the most serious as well as passionate people in my college life. I am very glad that I have done it and will be proud to tell my grandchildren that I once played NCAA basketball. Also, I am the founder and was the co-chair of Chinese Table, one of the biggest and most active student organizations on campus.
What was your first-year transition to life at SLC like?
It was not easy. Culture shock and language obstacles made it doubly harsh for a 20-year old who had no previous experiences living in the U.S. before. When looking back, I am glad that all this happened while I was in college because you always get a second chance in college, and both your professors and your friends try their best to understand you and are happy to help you out.
How would you describe your experience at SLC?
I loved it. There will always be a spot in my heart for my memories of SLC.
What is the community like at SLC?
It's an interesting community. The diversity and multiplicity sometimes made the communication and interaction slightly harder. But once you accept that and treat it with an appreciative attitude, you will certainly love what the community has to offer. I learned how to respect differences and make the most out of it.
How about the local community—did you spend a lot of time in the surrounding area? How about New York City?
I enjoy being surrounded by neighborhoods such as Bronxville—a cozy, beautiful town with cute, delicate cafes, restaurants, and parks. Some of my best memories here took place in afternoon strolls in the local area with a film camera in my hands. New York is a different story. Good different. New York always manages to exhaust me, but never my passion and expectation. It’s the best city in the world for a 20-year-old. And SLC definitely succeeds in incorporating the city into our college life.
SLC values international students because they bring to campus the richness and excitement of a global perspective. Can you give us some examples of how your perspective made a difference in classroom discussions, etc.?
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an undergraduate conference for development studies held by SLC in the spring of 2013. I not only presented my own paper on the early Chinese experience of modernity realized through its visual culture, but also had the chance to listen to other people—all of whom are undergraduate students all over the world—to talk about their work and opinions on the issue. It is really encouraging to see our work receiving intellectual respect and it is more than helpful to have our ideas collide and shared.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Luckily, I will start my Ph.D. program in Art History at University of Chicago in the fall of 2013. I will be spending at least six years to complete the degree. Hopefully, I will have my own book published in ten years.
What advice do you have for international students considering SLC?
Don’t be afraid to experiment with new things. This is what you are meant to be doing in college. And SLC is clearly a good place to do it!