By Kaizhao (Zero) LinThe numbers in my journey: 12,586; 35,040; and 2
“Studying abroad was one of your father’s dreams. He could not achieve it because his parents could hardly afford it, so he tries his best to create the conditions for you to do so and help him finish his dream.”
The night before I came to America, I was lying on my bed as my mom spoke gently to me. Same as others in my generation, I am the only child in my family due to the One Child Policy in China. Though they never stressed me out, my parents did have strong expectations of me.
“Everything after tomorrow will be different, and the only thing we can do for you is to provide you with enough money, nothing else. Your new journey is going to start!”
The goodbye was much more “peaceful” than I would have expected. My parents seemed to be mentally prepared. After I boarded and took my seat, I realized that I had even forgotten to hug them. Maybe because my subconsciousness did not allow me to do so. I secretly glanced back and waved my hand gently at them. The following 12,586-kilometer flight was the beginning of my new life.
August 19, 2018. I was barely awake and conscious when the plane roared and rushed out at 2:36 in the morning in New York all the way from Guangzhou, China. It was 56 minutes later than I had expected. That was the moment I landed on the huge step I had taken — deciding to study abroad in an environment totally different to my place of origin.
I arrived in New York first and then transferred to Syracuse. The ground crew at the JFK CIQ desk was nice and guided us international students warmly. However, not everyone seemed to be friendly to a foreigner.
My first meal at the JFK airport was a hamburger — a very safe choice that could fit my appetite. But I remember the cashier not being quite friendly to me, though she smiled readily at other customers. When I told her my choice, she gave no response. I suddenly felt the sense that I didn’t belong and I felt that racial discrimination might still occur in the following years because of my Asian identity.
Before the 24-hour flight to America, I spent four years, 35,040 hours, at an international school in China to help me prepare for studying abroad and, consequently, I was exposed to a new culture which shifted my identity of only being a Chinese. Thanks to this experience, my identity changed from just Chinese to that of a global citizen.
Just like any American high school, my high school was a four-year preparatory academy. I still remember the scene from the first day I walked into my high school: All the teachers I met were foreigners who could not speak Chinese; they greeted me warmly even though I could not readily respond to them. This was not surprising. Although Chinese students go through English education since elementary school, this education hardly provides them with enough confidence in being able to talk to a foreigner.
The transition from being a traditional Chinese student to an international student was hard, though I was also given more choices with the courses that I wanted to take. Surprisingly, the most annoying course I had taken, Model United Nations, actually influenced me greatly to be in my current major, international relations. Before taking this class, I used to identify as just a regular member of the Chinese youth. I seldom read international news and did not quite care about what happened around the world. However, the MUN class established a new world in front of me: continuous refugee crises in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the tensed nuclear conflicts in North Korea or Iran, the growing deterioration of environmental sustainability and so on. The course’s MUN conference experience spawned new thoughts on global issues and, consequently, broadened my horizons.
With strong curiosity, I began learning more about these international affairs by participating in several huge MUN conferences within China and around the world. I have been to the THIMUN 2014 in Doha, Qatar, a country that has been suffering a diplomatic crisis since 2017. Through the conversations with other delegates from different countries, I no longer had a narrow perspective. I was not only a Chinese but more a global citizen.
Coming to America to pursue my bachelor’s degree was not an impetuous decision for me. But though I was prepared, everything felt like the “unknown” after I entered college. My parents gave me enough space to choose what I wanted to do, but I still remember feeling lost when I did the college applications.
My parents definitely protected me. They helped me map out the path from kindergarten to high school. But as soon as high school was over, my parents were just as bewildered as I was. They could no longer support me in the exact way they had in the past.
Undoubtedly, my high-school life shaped an essential part of interest in political and social science, which guided me to the international relations major at Maxwell. Besides, I also had a strong willingness to dig into some other fields that interested me.
My first reason to attend SU was to be a dual major in IR and Newhouse because I was also interested in news reporting and TV producing; but I was only partially admitted. Fortunately, I got the chance of transferring internally and declared my second major in newspaper and online journalism.
I am also adjusting myself to accommodate with some differences and new situations that I am facing at Newhouse. Sometimes I feel lost, but my mom told me, “You are not a child anymore. You have chosen your own way, and you should be responsible for that.”
I came tens of thousands of kilometers to the U.S. after a lengthy metamorphosis into an international student. I’m so glad that I was born with my Chinese characteristics but could get a chance to grow with my new identity along this unknown journey.
Zero Lin, a sophomore studying international relations and newspaper at Syracuse University, wants to discover and retell the stories that he feels empathetic and grateful to.