Name: Yangyi Liu
Country: Beijing, China
Year: Senior, Class of 2018
School: Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa
Major: Double major in Biological Chemistry and English
Q. Why did you choose Grinnell College?
A. I liked the idea of a liberal arts education and the small class size because I thought it would create a better sense of community. I was a little afraid that a small town would be isolating, but it has everything you need –– a coffee shop, a movie theatre. And actually, the quiet environment is a plus for anyone wishing to delve into academics and student life.
Q. What was your biggest fear or worry about studying in the United States, and what did you find when you arrived?
A. Speaking in class or in public, especially in my second language. I was quiet when I first arrived, but then got a C in participation and realized it was hurting my grades. I finally realized many other students didn’t say “smart” things and that speaking something “silly” was better than speaking nothing. Sometimes we care too much about what others think and it can be toxic to our growth.
Q. What’s the best part of studying in the United States?
A. Flexibility and the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum. I have found that everything is connected, and the academic environment at Grinnell allows me to explore that. Take my favorite topic –– memory –– as an example. I’ve learned about memory’s physiological mechanism in a neuroscience class, have pondered its meaning in a philosophy class, and am currently studying its role in Renaissance literary works –– not to mention the research project I have been doing for almost two years on a neuronal protein critical for learning and memory. It’s fascinating to look at something from every angle.
Q. What’s the hardest part?
A. Finding a way to continue my education. I’m a senior and wanted to get my Ph.D., but international students face fierce competition. I just kept actively seeking out opportunities and following up and it happened: I’m now on my way to Yale to get my Ph.D. in chemistry!
Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve done or learned?
A. Screenwriting. It was a special course and after analyzing a ton of pilot episodes, I was shocked to see that almost every tv episode is composed of the same structure. I wrote a script about my childhood fantasy of having my favorite book characters come to life.
Q. What advice would you give incoming students?
A. Don’t be afraid to show your ambition. If you think you deserve something –– either a fellowship, an internship, or some other opportunity –– say you want it and fight hard for it. In my home country, it’s winner-gets-all, but don’t expect something to fall your way. You have to be proactive to make opportunities happen.
A live Broadway show! I saw “Wicked” in New York City and “Hamilton” in Chicago and the live music and being close to the performers was so powerful.