Editor’s note: The following profile is featured in the inaugural edition of the PYMNTS.com Global Citizen Index™, a Flywire collaboration. The Index focuses on cross-border tuition, and also features profiles of individual students from India and South Korea, to illustrate the varying backgrounds of Global Citizens.
Seeking opportunities to experience different thinking and culture.
Ziliang is a 22-year-old senior at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. As Ziliang recalls, when he was in high school in China, his father had a fortuitous conversation at his own college reunion with a classmate who now worked for an international agency and suggested that studying abroad could be a great opportunity for his son.
When his father floated the idea, Ziliang says that he was on board right off the bat.
“I always thought going to college in China was not something I’d enjoy, because all the things I hear about universities in China is that you don’t have the freedom to choose your own major and it’s pretty much a waste of time to some extent,” he said. “Also, I’m someone who always wants more challenge, so I thought, this is a great opportunity for me.”
Before he could begin his studies, though, he had to get past a major potential stumbling block: his mother.
“My mom, was really having some problems adjusting to the possibility that I would be abroad for four or more years without seeing me all the time,” Ziliang said. “So she was kind of worried at the beginning.”
As it happened, he had the help of a persuasive high school counselor to make his case.
“He talked to her about that it’s my own career and it is my own opportunity,” Ziliang recalled. “That I need to decide what I want, instead of her deciding for me, and I think that convinced my mom. So they were happy about my decision.”
Both of Ziliang’s parents are originally from rural Beijing and achieved college educations, “which were not very common for their peers,” he says. “They definitely value education and I think that’s what they think is the most important thing for young people.”
Ziliang says that, for his parents, earning college degrees was their ticket off farms and getting out of poverty. “The only way to achieve that is to go to college,” Ziliang says. “That’s pretty much it.” Both of his parents are doctors.
Tufts offered Ziliang a $25,000 annual scholarship. He was in.
Ziliang said that during his first semester at Tufts, he struggled with social anxiety and homesickness.
“At first I was very afraid of talking to people and making friends,” Ziliang said. “I thought I’d embarrass myself because English isn’t my first language, so I was pretty much scared from the beginning.”
Part of the reason for his uneasiness, Ziliang said, was that his perception of the U.S. prior to coming to visit schools was limited to American movies and television shows like “Friends.” He also says he read “a bunch” of Chinese books about democracy.
“The way people handle things, I think every single small thing is very, very different,” he said. Looking back now at his preconceived notions of life in the U.S., he acknowledges he was naïve. “I watched a bunch of TV shows about American culture before coming here, I watched movies, but still, yeah, it’s totally different.”
Small decisions, big results
Ziliang said he went home after his first semester at Tufts and thought about his tentative approach to his experience abroad. He was determined to do things differently – to throw himself into the experience. Pulling the plug on the abroad experience and heading home for good was never an option, he said.
“I thought ‘Huh, what is the purpose of me going abroad if I don’t engage with the local community, like with the American students,’” he recalled. After that realization, Ziliang said, he made a conscious effort to change his approach to social situations and embrace life abroad.
“I gave it a try and things got better and better over time,” he said. “I make the decision to greet people I know and talk to them and stop by and say ‘hi’ to some of my friends even though I don’t know them that well. Also, I just go to a bunch of events from different organizations, things like that.”
Ziliang even joined a fraternity during his sophomore year, he said, in an effort to push himself to his social limit. He refers to the fraternity as “pretty diverse,” with multiple Asian and African American members. Ziliang said that the group gave him a close-knit group of friends who he knew he could rely on during his time at Tufts.
“We are not primarily focused on having social events like parties all the time,” he said. “We’re more the sort of we hang out with ourselves, be supportive to each other, so I think that was very helpful in terms of helping me to get out of my comfort zone.”
Ziliang tries to see as much of the U.S. as possible, traveling frequently to places like California, New York, Washington, and even Hawaii and Puerto Rico. He has also traveled outside of the U.S., visiting Mexico and Bermuda, and attended the University of Oxford during a year-long study abroad program. He said he often visited other parts of Europe during his time at Oxford, and his travels have had a major impact on the way he now views the world.
Much like Ziliang, 60 percent of Chinese students surveyed cited motivation for studying abroad to experience a new cultural as VERY or MOST important.
“I think I view myself right now as a global citizen and I don’t really mind where I work or where I live at the moment. I could be in New York, I could be in England, I could be in Europe, or in Hong Kong or Taiwan or in Beijing,” he said. “I think different cultures or different citizens of different countries have different perspectives. And it’s very interesting and fascinating to learn about what other people think about different issues and I think that makes my experience or my perspective more complete in a way, as I learn different perspectives from different cultures.”
He also started a social enterprise organization at Tufts, called Effective Altruism. According to the organization’s website, the group’s mission is to “figure out how to do the most good.” And then?
With his undergraduate education just about wrapped up, Ziliang said he plans to work for two or three years before attending graduate school, ideally to study business or pursue a master’s degree in either computer science or economics.
Then he plans to start his own company.
He said he’s not sure yet where the company will be based. “I think it depends on the political climate in a few years,” Ziliang said.
He named a few potential locations for the future headquarters of his dream company, including the U.S. and China, among others.
There are more than a few things that Ziliang is sure about. He said he wants his company to have an international focus. He also knows that earning money will be very important going forward.
“I think we definitely need earning to support myself and support my family,” he said.
But, he’s also sure that he wants to continue to give back.
“There’s something called ‘giving what you can,’” he explained. “It’s an international pledge to give 10 percent of your lifetime income to charities.” Currently, Ziliang has promised to donate 1 percent of his income each year. “I’m thinking about doing more in the future, and that’s one career path for effective altruism. To earn a lot of money, so you can give a big portion of it to certain charities, I think that might be one possibility for me.”
Ideally, he said, those efforts will be directed via effective altruism, in the same vein of his focus during his time at Tufts.
“That’s using evidence and reasoning to figure out what is the most effective way to change the world,” Ziliang said. “Things like what charities to give to, what will have the highest impact, what career to choose to have the highest impact. That’s one of the reasons I want to start my social enterprise, I want to help deal with poverty or inequality or health issues in the developing world.”
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About the Index
PYMNTS.com Global Citizen Index™, a Flywire collaboration, focuses on the economic impact of Global Citizens, individuals who typically are experienced international travelers, and have the wealth or discretionary income to support the pursuit of personal priorities, including cross-border education, health care and wellness for themselves and their family members, or other experiences outside of their home countries.