“Although I haven’t traveled to many different places, I can begin to trace their remarkable features from my friends’ stories, just like looking at veins on leaves to imagine the image of the tree in summer.”

by Lavin Huo


[dropcap]I [/dropcap]can’t recall the details of our high school class photo. But I know it is there, in the corner of my drawer at home. And I can imagine how everyone looks on the photo: wearing the same white uniform with red strips, and looking good – everyone looking similarly good. In high school, we were driven by pressure from all directions. But now, as college students, I feel we are driven by the wind – freely encouraged to move forward in whatever direction we please. It reminds me of the lyric “younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze.” When I visit my friends who study across the globe in their colleges, or chat with them when we get back to Beijing, I can create portraits of them, and these images portray the larger world that surrounds them, surrounds me.

I am a Beijing native but attended college in Hong Kong because I wanted to see more than the communities I knew so well at home. I was again driven to see a larger world in college, taking a one-year exchange at Yale that is now almost coming to an end. I recently came back from my spring break, a trip to California where I reunited with my high school friends; it had been three years since we graduated high school in Beijing.

My first destination during break was Los Angeles to visit Lai before he departed for a semester abroad in Japan. Lai is crazy about keeping fit. Beside signing up for a private gym (his school gym is constantly overcrowded), he has his own electronic dumbbell, whose weight can be adjusted by pressing buttons, and jars of protein which are bigger than kettles. To a non-work-out type of person, his room is like a mini workout theme park. He even cooks special meals to accommodate his exercise plans. Boiled vegetables, udon, and other easy-to-make Japanese food, without sugar or oil, are his favorite. He cooked a vegetable dish with Mayonnaise topping for me, and said the topping was a guest special. His progress in Japanese is also remarkable. He passed the N1 test – the highest level of Japanese proficiency test – within two years’ time, and declared a Japanese major. Last year, he even got the first A+ for a Japanese course in his school in ten years’ time. Seeing him again, I could not help but remember our friendship in high school; Lai was always a kind, accomplished person. However, it is clear that in the past years he has pursued his particular passion to the fullest. Now, whenever I think of him, my mind buzzes with keeping fit and Japanese and the many other passions that have come to define my friend.

After visiting Lai, I went to San Diego to meet Yang. To my surprise, she was studying Computer Science. In high school her musical talent resounded. I can still recall well the day she played the piano at a singing contest in a black V-necked gown. Though she majors in CS, she is not letting go of her musical talent. She told me, “It’s better when music is only a hobby: you can feel safe even if you don’t’ like it one day.” Her healthy relationship to her musical passions is evident when seeing the collection of musical instruments, including a guitar, a drum, and her hand-made instruments, in her dorm room. She even takes courses combining programming techniques with music, such as music software development. Although I may not have anticipated Yang discovering new passions to connect to music, it was exciting to see that new directions she was able to explore abroad after high school.

Wen is in northern California. She still wears a school-girl ponytail, but her scholarly smile adds new charm to her face. She is doing Mathematics and Economics, which is undoubtedly a hot major for Chinese students, but she has her own reasons. She is enthusiastic about doing economic research, and aims to apply to a top Economics PhD program. “Even if I don’t get into the Econ program by any chance, I could be a one-year research assistant and apply again the following year.” I am impressed by her unyielding determination.

Finally, on my way back to Yale, I have a nice brunch together with Lu, who studies Applied Mathematics and Computer Science in NYU. She too is doing CS.

I ask her, “Do you think studying CS is a practical decision, or is it something you truly enjoy?”

“It’s a tie” she explains. “That’s the best balance of personal interest and career decision that I can find.”

“So what would you study, solely out of your personal interest?”

“Fine arts, or maybe food!”

Although I haven’t traveled to many different places, I can begin to trace their remarkable features from my friends’ stories, just like looking at veins on leaves to imagine the image of the tree in summer. For example, the rigidity of the British college system felt suffocating to my friend who could hardly take courses outside her major in Cambridge. The laid-back atmosphere of Australia echoes with the tales my friend told me of not being able to find a shopping mall open in evenings, and instead hanging out at various friends’ houses until midnight.

Some of my friends have stayed at home in Beijing. Lin is studying computer science. Her college life seems remarkably similar to our high school experiences. The head teacher takes charge of almost every feature of the class and meals at the school canteen still costs less than one dollar and fifty cents. Yan is majoring in finance. He says he has been discovering, and re-discovering himself again and again. Recently he said, “I still think I am more interested in international relations, but I have decided to also study finance as well. In the future, many international transactions will be financial.” It is fascinating to hear how he connects his personal interest with both his current curriculum, and his perceptions of our society’s future demands.

Riding life’s ups and downs in new places, I too have changed like my friends. At this moment, a good question could be where do you put yourself in the portrait, or where would your friends put you? But a more interesting one could be where will they put themselves?