Hao Zheng is an international student from China. She worked for two years at an international education company in Shanghai before coming to the United States. She is currently pursuing a master's in international education at New York University. WES Student Advisor asked Hao to share her stories about studying education in New York City for the first in a series of Q&As with Chinese students about living and learning in the U.S.
WES Student Advisor: Tell us a little about yourself.
Hao Zheng: I’m a graduate student in the international education program at New York University, and this is my third semester. I graduated from China University of Political Science and Law, majoring in English. After graduation, I worked for two years in Shanghai, and then I applied to this program.
When did you start thinking about studying in the U.S., and why?
I started thinking about studying abroad pretty early, like around sophomore year. I was not very satisfied with my undergraduate program, so I wanted something more rigorous – I just wanted to have a better education. But I didn’t really think very seriously about studying abroad during that time. Then the will became stronger and stronger, especially when I started working for an international education company. We had a lot of people who graduated from universities in the States. So I really felt that I needed some study abroad experience.
Why did you choose to study international education at NYU?
It’s mostly because of my job. I worked at an international education company. The company was not a study abroad-agency – we mostly dealt with implementing international curriculums in Chinese public high schools. For example, the International Baccalaureate program, A-levels and AP curriculum. We collaborated with public high schools around China; we had like 30 partner schools in China, we recruited teachers, setting up the curriculum, and we managed them. It’s all about international education. So at that time, this was the major that best fit my background – because I am an English major and I worked in the education field.
What was the biggest challenge for you during your first semester at NYU?
It’s hard to describe. It’s both… very stressful, very struggling, and it’s also wonderful. I was kind of freaking out… Even though I understood every word the professors said, I just felt it was still very difficult. For someone who graduated from college three years ago, I needed some time to get used to the classroom environment. For our program, actually, the course is very difficult, a lot of very difficult sociology theories, a lot of things I have no idea of. I was constantly freaking out during the first semester, but it was great – I lost a huge amount of weight (laughs). Before the midterm, I didn’t think I had the right to enjoy life. So I locked myself in the library every day, and I complained about everything: "Why is my life so difficult? I want to have fun." My efficiency was low. Then I suddenly realized that if I take a day off, take some time to have fun, I can still do the same amount of work. So why shouldn’t I have some fun? In the next two months, it was kind of crazy. I took every opportunity to try everything new. Because it was New York City, you can have so much fun! So it’s actually better if you take some time to relax and enjoy life.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned during your stay here?
This is a huge question because we’ve learned a lot here. When you were doing your application, you kept thinking whether you were making the right decision. But when you get here, you are sure that you’ve made the right decision – you changed your life, you changed your personality hugely within a short period of time. You have to constantly deal with all kinds of challenges in life, in academics, in everything. Recently when I woke up, looking at the mirror, I was thinking, “Wow, I like this kind of rigorous life!” It’s tough and it’s challenging, but it also helps you learn so much. I think I have become a very different person when you look back, like a year ago. I have more confidence in myself. I think people become more confident when they handle more challenges in life. The experience here has helped me grow up very quickly. It helps me find things that I want to do in my life. I found that I’m more and more passionate about doing research and there’re so many opportunities here. You can just try everything – the only problem is that time is so limited.
What’s your plan after graduation?
About a week ago, I was preparing for Ph.D. programs. I will still apply for those programs in the future, but now I’m thinking about going back to my home country, China, to work for two years in the education field. Because I feel like I need more real-life experience to have a better research direction.
What advice would you give to other international students who dream of studying in the U.S.?
The first thing is that you need to think carefully about why you are here, why you choose to study that major, and try to find as much information as possible. Talk to people in the program you are interested in. Don’t be biased by your own imagination. It’s so easy to imagine things that favor ourselves. But it turns out to be hugely different. You should try to contact people through social media to understand what the program is really about, the weaknesses and the strengths of the program. And another thing is the language. If you really want to make your life happy and comfortable, to make everything better, to make better use of your experience here, language is extremely important. It’s not like if you get a perfect score on the TOEFL exam, you are going to have a perfect life here. It’s not like that. You’re going through a lot of things; you really need to improve your language skills as much as possible, first on conversations on a daily basis, and then academic English. When you are here, don’t be afraid to practice your language. It’s really hard to step out, but try as hard as possible. It will benefit your life in every way.