University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Stories and

Becoming an International Student Leader

Jiayin (Julia) Qian

Jiayin (Julia) Qian received the President’s Student Leadership & Service Award (PSLSA) in April 2015 to recognize her work with ISSS and other student groups across campus.

Jiayin (Julia) Qian believes in opportunity. Opportunity led her from her hometown of Jinan, China to the University of Minnesota campus, and from being a new student to receiving the prestigious President’s Student and Leadership Award. Adjusting to a new culture didn’t come without its share of speed bumps; however, by using opportunities she found on campus, Qian was able to gain a new understanding of her surroundings and herself.

Qian’s first encounter with the University of Minnesota was during a study abroad trip hosted by her college in China. Drawn to the diverse campus and by her strong desire to expand her knowledge of American education system, Qian transferred to the University in 2013.

Since then, Qian has focused on pursing her degree in Family Social Science and integrating herself in the campus community through involvement in a number of extracurricular programs. Qian’s first student group experience was with the International Buddy Program, coordinated by International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). After this positive experience, she quickly began filling her schedule with other obligations ranging from introducing new students to campus as a Global Gopher Guide to helping sexual assault survivors as an Aurora Center Advocate and being an assistant in an autism research lab.

Qian says that part of the reason she was prompted to get involved was the sheer number of opportunities available to her compared to at her former college. “When I got here, I thought, ‘There are so many resources, why don’t I take advantage of it?’”

Unfortunately, between the culture shock of adjusting to a new campus and culture, Qian has noticed that campus involvement among her international student peers is lacking. To help advocate for the challenges international students face, Qian became a member of the Campus Climate Planning Team, a university program that discusses how to make campus a more inclusive environment for students and staff.

“We help the University’s senior leaders to focus on student issues and anyone on campus who is marginalized,” she explains. “I feel like in the American education system, people from different cultures separate and don’t have a safe place to talk about these issues. The U of M is really helping people step out from their comfort zone.”

In February, the group hosted an all-day event, “Campus Climate: From Conversation to Action,” which drew more than 400 faculty, staff, and students to discuss a course of action for some of the most pressing issues on campus. According to Qian, one of these issues is fostering a more inclusive environment between domestic and international students.

“Sometimes I feel like its only international students trying to make connections. It’s hard,” she says. “Everything is different from our home country.”

Because of these differences, Qian stresses the importance of asking for help in order to reach goals. “There are tons of resources on campus for anyone going through any difficulties or needing any kind of help,” she says. “Seeking help is really important for international student.”

Julia with President Kaler at the President's Student Leadership & Service Awards
Julia with President Kaler at the PLSA

Taking on leadership roles and getting involved on campus is one way Qian has eased her transition and even overcome barriers of her own. Qian regularly attends cultural events in addition to her job as a College and Career Access Intern at a local high school, where the students come from a very different cultural background than her own. These activities have helped her grow her resume, friend group, and world-view.

In April of 2015, her years of leadership and service were recognized when she received the prestigious President’s Student Leadership & Service Award (PSLSA), an award presented to one-half of one percent of the UMN student body for “exceptional leadership and service to the University and surrounding community.” ISSS also selected her to be the International Buddy Program’s Program Coordinator for the 2015-2016 school year. Qian attributes this success to her ability to recognize opportunity.

“I think it’s really important to seize the opportunity and believe you’re the person who can change the world. You can change a little bit of your life and bring positive energy to others.”

She is now hoping that other University members use her same realization to make the campus climate more open for all students. Qian’s goals for the future of higher education aren’t limited to only the University of Minnesota, however. Qian hopes to use the sense of social responsibility she discovered during her college years to make a difference around the globe. She plans to obtain a master’s degree and work either with children or in the higher education system, eventually making her way back to China to tackle the issues she is most passionate about: social justice, interest-based learning, and student involvement.

“I want to see more changes in China in the higher education system. I feel like I can make that change happen,” she says. “I hold this dream of changing the world; making it just a little bit better. I think I can do it.”

Date Published: October 2015