BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA — Of the many things Lin Zhu, 22, has learned and loved about the United States — wide open spaces, the beach, diversity and dogs, definitely dogs — one thing has fascinated her more than the others.
“I’m a really big fan of ‘Freakonomics,’” said Zhu, about the popular podcast and book that explores statistics, data and everyday common routines. “I like using data and statistics to try to explain issues that don’t really look relatable on the surface, but there’s actually a link underneath.”
Zhu wants to use data to link cultures in an increasingly globalized world. She credits her Mandarin-only speaking parents with supporting her to learn English and move from Tianjin, China, to the U.S. to attend college.
“Actually, my family doesn’t really speak English, so it is a really big change for me to go and study in the United States and go outside of China,” Zhu said. “My mom is working in Indonesia, so she is a very smart and independent woman who is not afraid to pursue her dreams even though it might be far away. So that also inspired me to study here and pursue my life here.”
She first attended Pepperdine University before transferring to the University of California-Berkeley, where she will start a job with Berkeley as an international program coordinator.
“It’s definitely something that I have been passionate about since I was a child. I love learning different languages and love learning about different cultures,” she explained. “I’ve been on a couple of international programs myself. I visited the U.S. and I also was able to visit Germany and learned German on a scholarship from the Goethe Institute.”
The Goethe Institute is a cultural and exchange organization that promotes the German language worldwide. She is eager to organize similar cultural programs and “help students have a really good experience here at UC Berkeley.”
When Zhu started her international student journey in the U.S., she landed first on the beach in Malibu, where Pepperdine is located.
“In Malibu, mostly no one walks in the street. It’s mostly driving and beaches,” she said of the wealthy southern California town. Moving nearly 630 kilometers (400 miles) north to transfer to Berkeley, which lies on the east side of San Francisco Bay where it is often damp and foggy, was not only a change in the weather.
“The whole academic atmosphere is definitely more competitive here and people are definitely more focused or they have much more emphasis on grades,” she described. “And there’s definitely more stressed-out students, I would say. But it’s also just a great experience for me to try to learn how to cope with the change and how to cope with the stress and things in life.”
Professors at Peppedine, a small university of about 3,500 students, were more likely to remind classes about the test next week or an upcoming assignment. Instructors at Berkeley leave that up to the individual.
“At Berkeley, we sit in a classroom full of people, like, maybe 200 or even up to 500 students,” Zhu explained. Professors “will not really remind you of anything. … So it is up to ourselves to check the syllabus, to do things ahead and just have a lot of self motivation.”
It came as a surprise when she happened to look at the back of the astronomy syllabus to discover a reading list that was supposed to be completed before class.
“At Pepperdine, the professors will actually remind you in class or through email versus here,” she said. “It’s all up to yourself to discover that there even is an assignment.”
Setting up a life
When she looked online before moving to the U.S. for advice from other international students, she found setting up one’s room to be a common dilemma. Zhu says a quick run to the local big-box store solves that.
What surprised her was the difficulty of “trying to set up a life here. For example, getting (a) Social Security (number) and getting a driver’s license, setting up banking accounts and then credit cards and phone lines.”
But curiousity, calm and patience — virtues she uses to describe herself — help her persevere.
“When I go to a restaurant, I like to order different stuff every time, just so I can try everything,” she said.
“And I’m not very, like, quick tempered. I’m pretty, like, patient and calm and I don’t yell. I don’t really get too intense about things or too urgent about stuff. So I think when I’m around, people might be more relaxed and laid back,” Zhu said.
But let her near a karaoke app called Quanmin K Ge (pronounced choo-an min kay guh) and Zhu is very animated.
“There’s a lot of Chinese songs you can get, English songs or even Korean songs … yeah, it’s pretty fun,” she said. She listens to books in the car on Audible, too.
If she were to strike it rich, she said, she would focus on a very American love.
“I really love dogs even though I didn’t have a pet growing up. I really love dogs and I was looking at the news that a lot of dogs are up for adoption and if they’re not going to be adopted, they will be, like, I don’t know the word …” she said.
“So I thought that would be really great if I could give money to shelters and then just like help people know, like foster. There’s a great benefit to fostering animals,” she said.