University of Rochester
BackgroundInterview Date:July 2018
Gender Identity: Female
Race/Ethnicity: East Asian, Chinese
Sexual Orientation: Queer, still figuring it out
Graduation Year: 2021
High School Experience: Private college preparatory international school in Hong Kong. It offered a ton of AP courses and was super competitive. It was one of the best schools in the region.
First Generation College Student: Sort of. My parents went to college in a very tumultuous political time in China, so they didn’t get their degree, but they are still well educated.
Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering
Minor: Political Science, so far that’s the plan.
Extracurricular Activities: I play Club Rugby, I am in Women in Business, I’m on the debate team, and I’m on Mock Trial.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience?
Yes, so debate and rugby and mock trial take a ton of time. On the weekends I’m either traveling for one of those three segments or I’ll be training for one of them. Also, the people you end up interacting with and participating in clubs with end up being your friends. Also, they introduce you to all sorts of activities on campus, like had I not met the rugby team, I probably wouldn’t have access to your traditional college social events.
Can you describe your weekly coursework for your major?
Rochester is unique in that [there is an open curriculum]. You don’t have prescribed courses you have to do. Engineering is a little more laid out for you, like there’s a recommended course load. Every course you have a lab. The engineering courses will always have lab. We also have a thing called the workshop, which is pretty cool. For math we have recitation and we have web-work, so online homework. For engineering, we have problem sets that will sometimes be due in one week or sometimes be due in three weeks, or sometimes even a project.
Can you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
I’m a tour guide on campus and we give this spiel all the time, but it’s very much true. If you want help with your math homework you have two options: you can ask somebody or you can complain very loudly and somebody will come and help you. So, it’s a very collaborative work environment. I came from a high school that was very, very cutthroat and coming here was a radical shift in the way that I address work and the way I interact with other students on and off campus.
What has been your favorite class in your major?
My favorite class is an unpopular opinion of sorts, my favorite class is actually Physics 122, Electricity and Magnetism.
What has been your least favorite class in your major?
Definitely math, like Calculus 1 and 2, Calculus 2 being the worst. It was miserable because everything is super, super fast so if you get behind you’re screwed.
How was transitioning from your school in Hong Kong to Rochester academically?
It was pretty wild. Everything changed, like lifestyle, money, working, schedule, everything changed. Transitioning was really tough actually in terms of academics, but thankfully at this university, there’s a ton of support available.
The biggest adjustment is the adjustment to freedom. The freedom here is unique because people will open doors for you and there will be a ton of doors open for you, but no one’s going to shove you in any particular direction, and sometimes that can be very overwhelming for freshmen here. At the end of the day, you’re surrounded by a group of people who are hustlers. The people who end up thriving here are the people who are like, “Ok, there are six opportunities. I want this one, and this one, and this one, and I’m going to take them in this order because that seems to be the right next thing to do.” You also have a ton of people who have no idea what they’re doing, but that’s also everybody. You eventually figure out how to deal with the constant crisis of because it’s really, really easy to change majors here. So, you can have a crisis whenever you want. It’s very on brand for students to think they will do one thing for a long time and then change.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Gilbert with two roommates, which means I was in a forced triple, which sucked, but there was a 20% discount on housing which was pretty cool. They were really cool people, but I just need my own space to function.
Sophomore: I’ll be living in Gilbert but in a single.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
Our campus is safe, but we’ve had a couple of incidents that have made me question how safe it actually is. We are next to the 19th Ward, which is a low-income area. [The median household income in Rochester is about $31,600 and there is a 32.8% poverty rate.] Sometimes it’s sketchy, so if you’re a woman don’t walk alone at night. We have a blue light system and public safety is incredibly responsive. It’s an open campus, so sometimes you have random people walking around campus. Generally, I do feel very safe on campus with the exception of certain frat houses and frat brothers that make people feel uncomfortable in general. Some groups will refuse to mix with certain fraternities. There is a lot of awareness with those things because of the collaborative nature of the university, we’re also very socially protective of each other.
What is your favorite place to get away from campus?
I like to take the bus to Eastman. Eastman is the music school that’s attached to Rochester, they’re one of the top conservatories in the country. But, because we don’t interact with them a lot, going to their campus is quite nice. There’s a coffee shop called Java’s there. But, if I really, really need to get away, I’ll just drive to New York City, which is like six hours. But, you know, you need what you need and I have extended family living there.
Rochester’s actually pretty cool Susan B. Anthony did a ton of her activism here. Frederick Douglass also is buried at a cemetery that borders the campus. There are a lot of things to go and explore and engage with if you get bored of campus. Not a lot of students take advantage of that though. This isn’t relevant to anything, but our campus has a lot of groundhogs and their really cute.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
There are some clubs in the city of Rochester which are 18+, which is pretty cool. There’s also just frat parties. If you’re on a sports team or in Greek life you get access to mixers and those will be between groups on campus. If you want to find it you can find it, but if you don’t want to find it you can just ignore it.
How was transitioning from Hong Kong to Rochester in terms of weekend options?
I grew up in a country where it was legal for me to drink at 18, so for me, it wasn’t a big deal other than the fact that American college students tend to binge drink way, way more than students overseas.
What have been your favorite times at Rochester?
The first time it snowed was absolutely magical. It gets pretty old because we get like 9 months of winter. The first day of snow was amazing. There was also this time when I was studying really, really late in Rush Rees Library, and I came out at it was like 5:30 AM and I watched the sunrise on the main steps of the main entrance. We have the Interfaith Chapel, which is across the quad, and when the sun came up it hit the stained-glass windows and it was one of those moments where I was like, “Wow, I’m really glad to be here.”
How happy are you with the weekend options? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Not really. I’m a pretty social person. I’m in a bunch of clubs and I know a ton of people, so if I ever want to go to a party it’s usually available for me. Sometimes I miss clubbing and I miss raves and stuff, but that’s just part of being in a country where the drinking age is 21. The city of Rochester is not that interesting in terms of clubbing and stuff, so when I turn 21 it’s not going to be that big of a shift.
Has being a person that identifies as Queer influenced your nightlife at all?
Not really, this is a pretty open campus and a pretty liberal campus. It’s also substantially gay. If you kiss somebody who’s the same gender as you, no one is going to really care. The rugby team mixes with a lot of fraternities and, generally, the guys that we do mix with are pretty cool and respect us.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Through my sport, I feel that there is a lot of comradery in suffering physically and running miles together. Usually through activities. Otherwise, peer advising. I tend to be older with older students because I just keep asking questions and they end up mentoring me. There are also people I meet because I am on the same schedule as them, like I’ll always see a certain person in the pasta line. It’s a small enough campus to meet people like that. It’s generally a pretty friendly campus.
To what extent do you feel people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
A lot, I think we’re pretty integrated. You will probably see all the Chinese students from the mainland congregated together sometimes, but I think that’s the only racial level that exists. There’s a lot of cross-cultural exchange that happens with the Chinese students, but I have had a unique experience with that because I grew up in Hong Kong and I speak Mandarin. In terms of queer people, this is a very LGBTQ safe space. We basically all know each other which is funny and weird. You will definitely be able to find people, it exists.
To what extent do international students mix with domestic students?
It depends on how big the cultural clash is. The majority of international students will mix among themselves and then slowly expand. The only problem that I have been encountering with domestic and international student interaction is that the idea of small town America is hard to explain to people from the rest of the world. Often times the problem isn’t going to be with the domestic students from big cities who have already had a lot of cross-cultural exchange, it’s going to be like, how do I explain a different set of moral values to my friend who has never been outside of Kentucky until now.
Was there any part of Rochester or American college as a whole that surprised you?
This is going to sound really bad. So, my high school was really competitive. Everyone who survived my school was reasonably smart. I came here expecting to think that everybody was going to be really interesting and I do, but sometimes it takes a lot to find people who are interesting to you and the common interesting person. You are going to have people that aren’t that great and people who aren’t all that interesting. You’ll have people who have really interesting opinions that will challenge yours, and you will have people who are kind of like a brick wall and they don’t have opinions at all. I guess if I had any advice, it’s you can hang out with whoever you want to hang out with.
How effective were the systems to make international students feel more welcome?
We have international student orientation, which, in all honesty, is kind of a mess. There are international student mentors, which people apply for. Some of them are really good. Overall, the institution tries, but the best way is just doing it and interacting with people of a different culture. Also, finding groups where you can exercise your own culture and find that commonality. I still get dim sum with my Cantonese friends and talk to my friends in my native language.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Rochester before entering as a freshman?
Take your AP credits and go. I made the mistake of forfeiting my AP credits thinking that I would get an easy A in the class. The class was not an easy A and it was also a mistake because the class was boring. So, if you have any credit they can transfer, definitely take them.
What is something that a student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
Inside the Rush Rees library, just get lost in there you will find lots of interesting things. In particular, the Great Hall, instead of hanging out in the lobby area, go into the Great Hall and take a left and there is a rare books and collections library that is set up like a museum. If it is open, check it out. It’s very cool.
What is something that we haven’t touched on that an international student should know?
Culturally it’s really inappropriate to talk about money. In this country in particular, it seems to be very touchy and it makes people uncomfortable when you talk about it. So that’s something to be aware of. And in addition to that, if you’re from a scholarly culture that reveres and respects teachers, it seems weird to be friends with your professors. Here you can be friends with your professors. Go to office hours even if you don’t need help with the homework.
Reasons to attend Rochester:
1) Free Curriculum. You only have to take Writing 105.
2) It’s easy to switch majors and you can switch majors really late. So, if you have an existential crisis at any point in time, you’ll probably be able to graduate on time if you play it right.
3) There’s really something for anyone. It’s the kind of place where it might seem like if there’s a group for you, but if you actually go out and look you will find a place. This place is wild. There are so many pockets of different kinds of people, and you might not hear about them, but you’ll be able to find anything you’re looking for. If that doesn’t exist, you can create a space very, very easily.
4) Access to professors and research is really, really easy. I had friends who worked in labs their freshman fall. I also have friends who are friends with professors and got their first internship by literally asking. All of the doors are open.
5) Sometimes it will feel like our Latin words, which mean “Ever Better” will feel a little fake. I guarantee that, eventually, everyone gets there. You will also be able to find people who believe in the version of “Ever Better” that you do as well because there are multiple versions.
Reasons to not attend Rochester:
1) It’s very cold, like 70% of the time. Like it’s really, really cold. We have a tunnel system, but it’s still really, really cold.
2) If you’re susceptible to seasonal depression, it’s not the place for you. It’s very hard and very academic and if you haven’t seen the sun in a couple of days you’re probably not going to want to be here.
3) If you are not the kind of person who is a hustler, who wants to get at opportunities, who wants to live the best life that they live on their own terms and with their own source of vigor and passion, this is not the place for you.
4) You have a ton of opportunity to slack off. If you are not self-motivated are not able to maintain a forward moving attitude by yourself without external motivators, you will not do very well here.