I grew up in a middle-class family in a metropolitan city in northern China. Fortunately, I have been able to count on my parents who have always supported me by investing in and continually sacrificing for my future and have tirelessly supported my continuing education and career goals. I have wanted to become a diplomat ever since I started learning English; the elementary school and middle school I attended provided strong foreign language programs that prepared me well for studying abroad. When I was 15, my mother had the foresight to send me to study in an American high school and to live with a host family. From my Catholic high school in a small town of the New York State, I began to develop a passion for international relations. I would not have been able to stand on the podium and give a speech to the graduating class of my high school as the salutatorian and then go to George Washington University without the support of my parents.
As I began to take courses related to International Affairs in college, I was introduced to a new way of examining global issues. Having grown up in a culturally homogeneous society, I used to look at social problems through the lenses of gender and class. After I came to the U.S., I learned that one’s life chances could also be limited by his or her nationality, ethnicity, race, and even sexual orientation. I learned that the intersectional forces that combine the elements aforementioned can severely restrict a woman’s access to education and employment.
In rural China, families that have multiple children tend to send their daughters to work at a young age to ensure that the sons can finish high school. This means that many girls from low-income families have difficulties receiving full basic education, let alone going to college. Even in big cities, many people still hold the traditional expectations of women being housewives who take care of their children and husbands. Friends of my parents have suggested that I should return to China after obtaining a bachelor’s degree so that I can settle down and get married. Fortunately, my parents dismissed such recommendations and encouraged me to apply for graduate schools.
The current society dominated by patriarchal norms has a stigma against successful women: it is unnecessary for women to pursue education higher than a bachelor’s or take leadership in the workplace. But I firmly believe that education gives women agency, mobility, and independence, some of the tools to more easily cope with structural barriers in life and to make an impact on one’s community.
Studying abroad and majoring in International Affairs broadened my horizon and gave me precious opportunities that I would have never had if I had stayed in China. I want to contribute my time and knowledge to women’s empowerment through education because studying abroad has made a huge impact on my own life. I also know that not everyone is as fortunate as me in terms of having a robust support system. Nowadays, as the cost of quality education continues to rise, the lack of funds and resources can threaten a person’s access to schooling or the pursuit of his or her goals in life. I hope that my work with the Asherah Foundation can help women around the world gain access to education and succeed.
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