For Xingpeng Wang, arriving in America last August was a culture shock.
Her first time traveling outside of China, Xingpeng was anxious to see America. The only Chinese student in Smith's one-year American Studies (AMS) Diploma Program, her trip to campus was much longer than that of her fellow American Studies candidates, from Europe. Not only did she fly from China, but had to travel far by land from her hometown near China's Tibetan border before boarding a flight.
For Xingpeng, the journey allowed had been worth it, for the opportunities it provides of living in another country and experiencing a new education system.
Xingpeng's home, thousands of miles removed from the bustling cities of Hong Kong and Beijing, is very different from those Chinese metropolises.
"Depending on where you live in China, you could receive a poor or a really good education," notes Xingpeng, who studied in Beijing. In the major cities there is constant education reform, she explains, and more students are admitted to universities if they live in cities such as Beijing. However, the school system in her area never received much attention for reform, and policies have remained the same for decades.
Xingpeng is candid about China's attempts to become democratic while still holding on to old policies. The government still censors the Internet, she says, and authorities are exclusive about which search engines and social network platforms may operate in China.
So when she came to Smith, it was the first time she could access Facebook and build her own page.
Xingpeng has hope that China will become a true democracy some day, and that the government will listen more to the people. Her goal is to be a literary translator so that she can translate texts into her language and educate those around her who are interested in politics and want reform in the country.
She has read some works by Chinese novelist Mo Yan, who became the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Prize in literature, in 2012.
"He is one of those famous writers in modern China whose books are interesting," comments Xingpeng. "I enjoy his vivid description of historic or real-life stories. His language is simple but not tedious. The plots are absorbing and tight-knit."
She appreciates the recognition of Chinese literature by the rest of the world, Xingpeng adds.
After completing her American Studies certificate, Xingpeng is not sure what her future holds, or where she will live.
One thing she knows for sure: she has so far enjoyed her year at Smith and will hope to visit the United States again some day.
By Chelsea Orefice '16, Global STRIDE Fellow