At the end of the freshman year in Shanghai University, my English teacher, Joan (She is an older American lady. Sorry I forgot her last name), sent me an American Atlas as a gift. In that book, there is a list of American universities as well. After I received the Atlas, I came up with the idea that I wanted to study in the U.S. I still keep that book, and I hope I can meet Joan again.
Events that have changed my life? I mentioned the math class in middle school. The other event has to do with this program. Johns Hopkins has changed my life. I was admitted into the Master of Finance program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, George Washington University, and Lehigh. I was on the waiting list at Boston College. Some schools also declined me, including Georgia Tech and Washington University.
After I got admitted to Johns Hopkins, from February to April, I was struggling over these choices. I asked my colleagues, my friends, my classmates, and my professors. I even asked the friends of my father. Some of them said, ‘Oh, the MBA is not as valuable as it was before. The master’s in finance is more popular now.’ Later, I talked with my best friend. He is the same kind of person as I am. We figured out the basic situation: What kind of person am I? I am not a quant, though I am good at math. I am a person who is enthusiastic about interpersonal skills. I am the kind of person who wants to be a leader. A financial engineering program would focus on quantitative skills. They would educate you from A to Z in finance and prepare you for a career as a quant. It might be too narrow for me. The MBA program would give me training in leadership and broaden my horizon. It would enhance my interpersonal skills. With that degree, I could also enter the financial analysis area. So I chose Johns Hopkins. They tried very hard to show how great it is. I got a lot of email after I got admitted. Not every school did that.
I arrived in Baltimore nearly three weeks before the program started. I was still struggling, though. I didn’t apply for an apartment before I came here so after I arrived I searched for a lot of apartments and was told, ‘sorry, there is no apartment for you now.’ So actually Will Graves, another student in the program and my roommate, was my only choice at the time. He was very nice. He helped me move from the Mount Vernon Hotel to an apartment. I had to buy the furniture from IKEA and I put it together myself. That was my first time. We have IKEA in China, however, we don’t like that because we prefer pre-built furniture, not furniture you have to build yourself. It was kind of crazy for me. The language part is the hardest of all. I will give you an example. I went to Houlihan’s and the waitress asked me if I want a drink. I looked at the menu and saw American beer. I said American beer and then she stared at me and I stared back at her. I finished my order. I didn’t know it is a kind of beverage and that that is Budweiser and Bud Lite and a lot of other kinds. I had never had American beer. Later, we figured that out. She asked to see my ID, and I showed her my J-card (student ID card) without a picture. She still sold me alcohol.
I bought a cell phone by myself. It was a lot of first experiences. The American experience has changed my whole life. At Johns Hopkins, we had a lecture by a Nobel Prize Winner. It was fantastic. We went to the World Bank. I would never have imagined doing that before. And I am going to Peru for the Innovation for Humanity project, and that’s another short story. Before I came here, in May, I knew I would go to Johns Hopkins and then knew that I had a chance to go to Peru. One day I was watching a TV program and there was a documentary on a tribe in Peru that lived on the water. I talked to my mom and said I will go to that place. My mother kind of didn’t believe me. And now I’m going.
The greatest challenge I’ve ever had is not study or work. I was born with a cleft palate and it was pretty hard. When I was an infant, I had two or three surgeries. When I was 10 years old, I had to go to hospital every month for braces on my teeth. The situation in China is very different. There was a long line before you could see the doctor. It was terrible. I did the surgery five years ago, between my freshman and sophomore years, and I might take the final surgery in the future for the facial part. It corrected the shape and the function of my jaw. It was painful, not only for me, but also for my parents. I don’t even want to recall it now. In the first two months after the surgery, I could only drink liquids, such as juice, milk, or soup. I dramatically lost weight because of that. Maybe one month after the surgery, one of my best friends send me the movie “Shawshank Redemption” on a DVD. This movie really gave me strength at that time. It inspired me. After watching the movie, I felt like I was crawling to “freedom” as well. And, to tell you the truth, the line, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” became my motto as well.