University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Pioneering Chinese Students Graduate

Sherry (Si Wei) Zhao
Sherry (Si Wei) Zhao '13, photograph by Sally McCay


Pioneering Chinese Students Graduate

In the summer of 2010, twenty-eight Chinese students came to UVM to pursue bachelor’s degrees through a newly adopted U.S. Sino‐Pathway Program (USPP). When they came, the university enrolled just one Chinese national undergraduate, and she had attended high school in the United States. The USPP students prepared for UVM over just nine months at private education centers in China, concentrating on English speaking and writing skills, American history and culture. Few had traveled outside of Asia and nearly all were single children at the center of families from cities with populations of ten million plus. When they came to Burlington, they gave up proximity to doting parents, favorite festivals and foods, familiar currency and language—even their given names—to immerse in American university life. 

Ten of these USPP pioneers graduated in May as members of the UVM Class of 2013 with degrees in engineering, business, and film and television studies.

Sherry (Si Wei) Zhao, the lone liberal arts major among the USPP graduates, is clear about her reasons for coming to Vermont. “It is so beautiful. And there were very few Chinese students at UVM, so I knew my English would improve,” Zhao says. “Also, I’m not strong in math or physics or chemistry, so the Chinese education system is not as good for me. Coming to the U.S. gave me more choice to follow my interests.” For Zhao that is television and film studies. She has also been a photographer for the Vermont Cynic and a member of the Lawrence Debate Union. 

After graduation, she returned to Shanghai. “I miss my mom and home a lot,” she says. “And working in the media industry is tough. I need to go where I have connections.” Zhao will knock on doors at companies like International Channel Shanghai, where she had an internship last summer.

Looking back, Zhao is quick to say, “This is the most valuable three years that have happened in my last twenty years. And there are many things I am going to miss, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and definitely my American friends.”

Other USPP graduates echo Zhao’s feelings about UVM and about going home. However, return to China will not be as immediate or direct for them. Daniel (Xie-Cheng) Yuan, a business major also from Shanghai, accepted a stockbroker position with Scottrade in the United States. Yuan interned with the company, a twenty-hour per week commitment, while taking a full course load during the past year.

“I’ll definitely go home to China at some point, when I want to settle down,” Yuan says. “Right now the U.S. corporate culture is appealing because of the diversity I’ll get. I’m young,” he adds. “I still want to explore—see other parts of the country. There is too much stuff I don’t want to miss.”

In total, there are 185 full-time international undergraduate students currently enrolled at UVM. Eighty-five are USPP students; twenty-three more will arrive on campus this summer. In addition, there are forty-four international undergraduate exchange students.

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