American Experience | 体验美国

Why Study Abroad in the US @ Transy?

November 11, 2016 12:43 pm | By Nanhao Chen

“Study abroad” is no longer novel in today’s world. The term has become associated with some unpleasant reports and may even be a liability. Questions such as “How’s the real life on that side?” and “Is it really a better decision to study abroad?” always bother people who have made the decision that I did. While each individual would give a different answer based on their own experience, I am also willing to share my stories with others.
I graduated from Chengdu Shishi High School, and now study at Transylvania University, located in Lexington, Kentucky in the US. The name means “the school on the side of mountain”. All students, faculties, and staff refer to this university as “Transy”. If you have not ever heard of this city, as most have not but you are an NCAA fan, you may know we are in the same city as the “Wildcat” basketball team and just several miles away from Wildcat’s home gym.
I still remember the time how thrilling it was for me when I received the offer from Chengdu Shishi high school. At that time, I could have predicted that my friends and I could walk out of gaokao test room together. But I didn’t choose to follow this “classic path” to acquire my successes step by step. Instead I chose to ”study abroad” to see another world. (With the growing economic environment in China, more families are financially capable to support their children to see the bigger world and it is unreasonable to define each studying abroad individual as “privileged” or as they are portrayed in negative news stories.) I decided to study abroad after cautious discussion with my whole family and I am really grateful to have their support all the time. My high school also offered me a tolerant environment for preparing everything and I could never have made it abroad without their support. I spent my high school time with endless TOEFL training and SAT preparation and it was not any easier than my friends’ life of studying and taking the gaokao (Chinese college test.)
I finally decided to go to Transylvania University, a liberal arts college with a rare name. Transy was not the “highest-ranked college nor did it offer me the best scholarship deals for me among all the offers that I received. Its major advantages were its 170 years of history for this college, making it the 16th oldest university of the United States, and its location in a hub city where it is highly connected with all other East Coast major cities. Since I graduated from a high school with 2100 years history in Chengdu, the major reason for my decision to attend Transylvania was the personal attention that Transy would invest in each student attending the liberal art college. This “one-on-one” attention is an experience that I barely had in all the past time of my education. Moreover, this personalized effort to help students is a systematic effort from the whole Transylvania University as a community, not an individual effort by a professor or administrator.
In my past first year college life, many professors gave me tremendous help. I was so surprised that I didn’t fully appreciate it as much as I do now. As an ESL student, it is a life long journey to be fully capable of using a language as English. Even though I might be improving daily in communicating, it is still a “mission impossible” to have every word be perfect in my academic life. I needed a lot of help, and, my professors, no matter what subject they were teaching, were always there for me. I remember the time that I was taking Western Art History. I was facing twice as much difficulties as my other American friends because a subject like Art History does not only require high level English skills in writing assignments but also has its own terminology in terms of describing art works. My professor Dr. Wolsk, a lovely and respected leading scholar in this area, always spent a whole afternoon to give me one-on-one tutoring to make sure I fully understood the concepts. I had similar experience with my First Year Seminar professor. This is writing training that aims to train students be able to deliver their message in writing precisely and properly. Every assignment in that class, no matter if it is a short response or a 15 page long essay, will come back with more than plenty feedback for us to work on, in order to do better next time, and sometimes we will even have some other extra reading to help us have a more valid supportive point in our papers. This personalized education spirit is exactly what I am and was looking for, and I also believe only the colleges that are capable of offering low instructor/student ratio can offer these experiences as the one I am enjoying right now. Last year, the instructor/student ratio was 1:11, in other words, every 11 students will have one professor to back them up.
The spirit of having a comprehensive college experience in the U.S. universities allows students to have a more packed social life with extracurricular activities. Trans has a very sophisticated student life system since we only have 1200 students in total and only 20 of them come from China. Thus there is an objective pressure for me to walk out of my “comfort zone” to reach out with other people. Transylvania has the highest Greek Life involvement among the States (around 70%). I have to admit that I did not know much about the Greek system before I arrived here, and the poor knowledge I had was from exaggerated Hollywood drama. In fact, fraternity and sorority life is not only one of the most significant parts of American university culture, but also a very efficient method for international students to expand their social life. The original expectation of establishing Greek Life is uniting the students who shared the same value and spirits all together to cultivate good relationships as brothers or sisters, and these relationships still benefit me a lot. Some senior brothers will share their experience to help my class path. Other brothers, who are working at Writing Center, will help me polish my essay every single time. And some of them will just show me the city by bringing me to a splendid restaurant. I can assure everyone that the stereotypical misunderstanding of Greek life filled with alcohol or crazy parties is not true.
Besides faculty and my friends, alumni also play a significant role in the Transy community. Transylvania University has a fabulous alumni mentor program, also known as “100 doors program”, to guide each student to their own professional life after college. My mentor is a Transy 68’ alumnae and she had an absolutely fabulous career experience. She graduated as a history major and started as a clerk at information logistic company and then went to graduate school to study computer science and received her master degree. After that, she worked at one of the United State Navy contractors as the head of information department. Now she is retired from her job and started her own interior designing company. She started her career from the bottom and fought to the top, then even started another company after she retired. I cannot share how much I admired her and appreciated having her as my mentor. She not only prepares me for my future, but also brings me to her friends to build my own network.
A qualified and successful university can never be only measured through several limited standardized ranking system. Each university carries different values thus they illustrate their ideal education in different ways. However, there is also a common ground for all the universities and that is they always put their students, the undoubted main body of a university, as their priority all the time. I am not saying only some colleges as Transylvania University is the best option among all others. What I am saying here is that as long as an university is able and willing to offer sufficient and ample opportunities for students to grow up, then it is a reliable option for students. After all, for many students four years of college life is about learning about ourselves rather than learning specific knowledge. Of course, there is an obvious distance between Transylvania and worldwide “first class” universities as Harvard University, Tsinghua University, or Peking University. Transylvania is not a perfect college, but I do think it is the most suitable for me. I believe this place can help me explore my life’s journey and give me the foundation to face the unknown challenges outside of the ivory tower.
At the end, let’s go back to the question at the beginning of this article: is studying abroad a better option? I think it will not be a hard question for me to answer: It is always a good option as long as it helps children grow up.