BY GABBY RAYMOND ’20
Unlike many other international students at Mount Holyoke, Kejing (Momo) Jin ’19, from Beijing, China, has lived in the U.S. for five years. Jin attended a test-oriented high school in Beijing that did not appreciate her drive for academic excellence or her participation in extracurricular activities. “[Students] had ten classes a day, six days a week and everything was about scores because in China it’s still all about your college entrance examination score,” said Jin.
Jin founded the school’s Model UN club, started a Student Government Association chapter and was a member of the sailing team, and therefore felt that the rigidly structured system was not conducive to her ambitious goals. Jin wanted an environment where she could have more flexibility and be “more than just a score to be judged.”
Jin decided to study for two years at an American high school, which she hoped would lead to a smoother transition at an American university. “Because my school was oriented towards tests in the Chinese system, not the SAT, if you decided you were going abroad for college, you had to stop going to classes and stay home to prepare for [American] tests.”
On Aug. 20, 2014 Jin left China with only two suitcases to attend Gunston Preparatory School in Maryland. Even though she has always been independent, the trip to the U.S. was especially difficult. “I realized this time [I’m] really on my own,” said Jin. In Maryland, she stayed with two families — the first of which was insensitive to her challenging transition. Instead of making her feel welcomed, she was told that if she was unhappy, she should “go back to China.” Jin then lobbied the program to switch her to a more understanding host family.
Despite the initial anxiety, Jin feels that her time in Maryland helped her acclimate to American society, especially in regards to different dialects of English. Even though she studied at an English foreign language school in China, Jin said, “the English you learn in school is not what you use when you are having casual conversation. The meaning that you want to get out might be misinterpreted by languages.”
It was not until she began to acclimate to the dialect of the “white American” that she felt communication was less of an issue. “It’s very important to have different perspectives of thinking — there are specific ways in every culture to speak politely, so it’s important to express your ideas and make sure the other party understands your perspective,” said Jin.
At Mount Holyoke, Jin felt the international nature of the community made “everyone very willing to exchang[e] perspectives and accept them.” However, even within this community, Jin has run into issues with her mode of communication. “Sophomore year, I got to know a group of Latinx students, and they would always say to me, ‘Why do you sound so white?’” said Jin. As an international student from China, she was shocked: “I got from that sentence that I sound like a local American but also they’re judging me for being white — a speech pattern I picked up because I lived with a white family 365 days a year.”
There is a learning curve to adapting to life in the United States. Like sailing, which she excelled at in high school, Jin has found that immersing herself in a new culture is much like jumping off the dock onto the boat for the first time. “Actually jumping was a huge step for me, but then you get more comfortable you really see how you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and how you’ve grown from it,” said Jin. Since leaving Beijing, Jin’s appreciation for global exchange has grown. “There is a lot more diversity in the States than in Beijing,” she said, “but the more time you’re here the more you realize that, while different, people are Americanized. I do want to travel to other places in the world like Latin America or Europe because I want different perspectives.”