The Daily Illini

Chinese student shares University experience

By Trisha Bhagat, Contributing Writer

For many University students, a quick car ride home separates themselves from their family. However, for freshman Karlie Zhan, her home is halfway across the world in China.

The University is known for their amazing programs that attract many international students. The education provides a better opportunity for many, and this is how Karlie felt.

She is 18 years old, and this is her first time in the United States. Growing up in a small town near Hong Kong never provided her with the amount of diversity she has been exposed to here; students come from all different places and have different majors.

The first week of school she met another international student and first friend on campus, freshman Xinyi Li (Eleanor). She is 19 and studying communications here at the University.

She said that one of the hardest parts about coming to the University is the language barrier between her and many of the other local students.

“I have met a lot of other international students,” Zhan said. “The more local students I’ve met are in my dorm, but the language barrier makes it hard for me to talk to people. That is definitely the hardest part.”

The University was Zhan’s first choice in the United States. From connections back at home, she believed the universities in China focus heavily on studying, and many people spend their whole life attending school. Zhan believed that in the U.S., you work hard for your good grades and try new things even though the studies may be harder.

Her major is undecided at the moment, but she hopes to transfer into the engineering school.

“At first, I thought the campus was very big, but after these 3 months, I realized it’s not that big,” Zhan said. “Universities here are much bigger than China. In China, most universities are in big cities so there isn’t a lot of space.”

Even though the University has an abundance of activities to do and is relatively big, it doesn’t compare to a city like Chicago or cities in China that she has been to.

Both she and Eleanor visited Chicago for the first time and attended an Ed Sheeran concert. Zhan believes they are very similar people and that’s why they are such good friends. Both of them are huge fans of pop music and follow current music trends.

Another student that has really made an impact on Zhan is freshman Jason Liu. He is 18 studying engineering undecided. He is from Alabama but has a residency in China. They met at Sights and Sounds the first week of school and have been friends ever since.

Liu believes Zhan has been such a great friend for him on campus.

“It’s great meeting her because my first language is Chinese so it kind of made me feel like home,” Liu said.

Karlie said he has helped her a lot in the transition between China and the United States, while also helping with the language barrier.

Eleanor and Zhan both have noticed that the big campus allows students to meet new people and create new friends.

“We always help each other out when we need someone to talk to because we both want to improve our spoken English to have more communication with the locals,” Eleanor said. “Being an international student makes me feel ‘special.’ At first that meant I felt afraid I couldn’t fit in with the local students, but I found they are really friendly and helpful which comforts me a lot.”

In addition to schoolwork, music plays a huge role in Zhan’s life. She has played piano for 10 years, so meeting people with music interests as well have been really beneficial for her. She uses the practice rooms located in her dorm.

Being so far away from home can definitely be a huge challenge. The language barrier has proven to be the most difficult for Zhan.

“I think the hardest part is not being able to speak the language,” Zhan said. “I have a math discussion. I know how to solve the problems, but it is really hard for me to explain it to my group mates.”

Outside of the classroom, Zhan finds the food choice to be difficult. The one thing she misses most is Chinese food and spicy food.

“At first, I thought there were so many choices at the Ike, but now it is the same thing,” Zhan said. “I miss the food sometimes more than my home. Since I talk with my parents almost every day, it isn’t hard, and I will be going home during winter break to see them.”

Zhan said she has been having an amazing time here on campus. She couldn’t imagine attending school anywhere else and has loved learning new things on campus every day.

She said the University has been very welcoming, and she states, “The people are my favorite part.”

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