The last two years of Lynn Guo’s life have been a whirlwind. An international student from China, Guo chose to attend the University of Georgia after a search of 100 American universities because of the University’s program in non-profit management.
Since then, she has worked on video projects in and around Athens, Ga., explored the country and learned a lot about the differences between China and the United States.
I sat down with Guo earlier this week to talk about life as an international student and learn more about the experiences of an international student living a world over from her family and friends.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself.
A: My name is Lingman (Lynn) Guo–in Chinese it’s Guo Lingman. I’m 27, I’m from China, and I’m a second year master’s student in non-profit management.
Q: Why did you decide to come to UGA?
A: Well, I wanted to come to America for grad studies since I was in middle school, and I chose UGA because I liked the curriculum of my program, and also compared to [other schools] I liked the climate, the cost – what else? – the reputation.
Q: What was the application process like for you?
A: Submitting standardized test scores, transcript from college (from undergrad), personal statement, get recommendations, take English language tests. And for my application, I personally made a video talking about why I wanted to get into the non-profit world, so I made this video, and I sang a song for this video; I think it ended up pretty good.
But the whole process, the very beginning, started from selecting the schools and programs.
Q: So how did you go about selecting schools?
A: So I basically looked at, went through, a list of the [top] 100 universities in America and went through their websites and found out about their programs about non-profits and non-profit administration.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out you got into UGA?
A: I was pretty excited!
Q: And what happened between China and coming to Athens?
A: I was still working; I quit that job one month before I came here, and then I went to another province to visit the kids I had taught three years ago when I was in senior year of college. So I went there, and took them and travelled around the capital city of their province, which they had never been to and then kind of started to meet up with friends in my city (Chengdu), and say goodbye to them. And [spent time with] my family, and then I came here.
And then I went to visit my exchange family in Oklahoma, whom I’ve missed for the past then years. Because I was an exchange student to their family when I was 16, so that was 10 years ago.
Q: What happened when you got to Athens?
A: I kind of settled down in my apartment, I kind of wandered around the environment, I participated in the information session of the Chinese Student Association, and then I participated in the International Student Orientation, which helped a lot.
Q: What do they go over during International Student Orientation?
A: Oh, they do a bunch of stuff. They did activities including all the things like buying a car, getting used to the environment, the food, the transportation, the bank stuff, all the way to [they] take to you to Wal-Mart to shop and [they took] us downtown to try to different restaurants, to play bowling.
Q: What were some of the biggest differences you perceived between China and Athens?
A: Well, I think the first thing is — for sure — diversity. China is not a country of diversity, but in America we have diversity of ethnic groups, food, personal characteristics [of people from] different states. For sure it’s the population of a city, of a town, and air quality.
The other thing is, for America, if you travel around America, you won’t find a huge difference in terms of the architecture, the restaurants, what people do, what people wear. But if you travel across different places in China, you will find differences.
The other thing is, I would say freedom. Like freedom to try different things, to do different things, freedom of speech.
Another thing for America is, it’s very easy for you to get close to Americans, but very soon you will find, you will probably lose track of people; it’s a society of mobility. It’s very easy for us to become familiar with a person, but it’s hard for us to really get to a certain degree of closeness or intimacy.
Q: What have been some of your interesting experiences as a grad student here?
A: I would say its those projects I’ve done with some non-profits here that allowed me to have first-hand experience with things they’re doing, and how well they’re doing things. Basically get an idea of what they’re doing, and how non-profits are doing it. And the idea of doing a project by myself is a pretty cool experience for me. I’ve learned quite a bit from them.
Q: Can you describe one of these projects?
A: Like, say, one of them I shot a video of a local non-profit last semester. One of the categories of their classes is teaching aerial dance to children with developmental disabilites, so I was making a video there featuring one girl who has autism and hearing impairement. It’s also a process for me to know what it means for a single mom with this kind of daughter; what does it mean to live here? And which kind of assistance and aid they can receive from channels, resources. And also to know that the great teacher to dedicated her time to kids with such difficulties.
Q: Is this video online?
A: No, I’m still trying to finish it. I have some work to do!
Q: What are some of the challenges, or some of the benefits, associated with being an international student?
A: Initially, it is the mastery of English, in terms of how well we can use it in reading and in writing. That’s a very obvious challenge. Another thing is a cultural thing. I would say there’s a big cultural difference between how people interact with each other here and in China.
Like, say, I can understand English without any problem. But other things – that American kids talk about — I wouldn’t be able to discuss with them because I would not know what they are talking about. Like TV shows, some famous people.
Q: How do you handle that sort of situation?
A: I think I just listen. If, several times, they have broken into laughter, I would probably just ask them what’s going on, what it’s about.
Q: What are your future plans for after you graduate?
A: I’d like to find a job with a non-profit in Georgia so that i can stay here. Most of the reason is, I want to work with a non-profit, and I really like the natural environment here, which we’re kind of losing in China.
Q: What do you mean by “we’re losing the natural environment”?
A: Well, the environment in China is kind of upset — like it’s polluted. The air quality in my city would be pretty hard for me to really want to take a walk, or go outside and run or something like that.
Q: Is there anything you miss about China?
A: The food!
Q: Have you been back since you started school here?
A: Yeah, I went back for last winter break.
Q: Do you go back pretty frequently?
A: No. Well, this time I went because [winter break] is pretty long, and my grandpa is not doing very well, so I just went back.
Q: What was it like going back after such a long time here?
A: I definitely noticed a lot of changes in my hometown. Compared to how fast things change here, in America, that’s a huge change. Like they put up some more infrastructure, they have a whole high-rise roads (like overpasses) like a loop in my hometown.