Sylvia Jiang

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sylvia Jiang, a fourth year pianist from Auckland, New Zealand. Read on to learn about how Sylvia first began to learn the piano, New Zealand, and her project, NOVA: Movement and Sound (http://www.facebook.com/NOVAMovementandSound).

You began your piano studies at age four. What is your earliest memory of the piano?

When I was growing up, my family would go for dinner at a nearby hotel on special occasions. At that time I wasn’t so interested in the food, but rather found myself always intrigued by the pianist in the lobby and so I asked my Mother for lessons. You must understand that I was a rambunctious three year old whose attention was ever-wandering and so my Mum’s answer was a resounding “absolutely not.” But I was extremely persistent so at age four she finally agreed to a trial run and has been totally supportive ever since.

Sylvia, aged 5

When and how did you decide that piano would be more than a hobby and instead be your major in college and career?

I’ve always taken Piano as a ‘one step at a time’ thing because of how unpredictable the career can be- particularly coming from New Zealand where international success in music is present but rare. I also attended a competitive, academically based private school and so academic achievement had always co-existed with my musical journey. However, around age 16 I realized that I needed to trend in one direction or the other because my time was limited. In the end, I decided that I could always go back to a career in some other field but that Music and the Piano couldn’t wait so I decided to commit more thoroughly to Music.

You have given solo recitals in a number of countries including New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States. Of these many performances, which one stands out the most in your memory and why?

Honestly for me, the duration of any performance is mostly the same because I try my best to be completely immersed in the music- but interesting things certainly happen before and after! An incident that I will always remember occurred at a community recital that I gave when I was 16 or 17. In my concluding speech, I thanked my Mum and gestured to her in the audience. A lady sitting close to her (who had maybe had a little too much to drink) yelled out “that’s not your Mum! That’s your sister!”

We know that Juilliard students do not have a lot of free time, but when you do, what do you like to do for fun?

I guess I could say that I spend most of my free time at the piano- partly out of necessity but also because I feel a bit empty without it. Aside from that, I like to search out fun fitness classes around the city, go rowing in central park (when the season allows), play video games, and spend time with my friends. I also really love watching basketball (Go Warriors!) so as a recent birthday present my Mum and I took a trip to Oracle Arena in Oakland California to watch a Warriors home game.At an escape game in New York

If you could have one super power what would it be and why?

When I was younger I used to think that I would like to be able to read people’s minds but the older I become the more I realise that it would be too much information. A practical superpower would be the ability to teleport while magically also maintaining lawful status wherever I go, but the idealist in me would like to have the ability to heal.

If you had to pick one food/dish to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?Sylvia 6

My favourite food ingredient in the world are potatoes and it has been this way since I was three years old. My grandma always told me that I would grow out of it but I haven’t yet…

Where in New Zealand were you raised? If our readers were to visit it, what are three things you recommend they do?

I grew up in Auckland which is the largest city in New Zealand- although large is relative since there are only roughly 4 million people living in New Zealand as a whole. I am very passionate about the idea that everyone should visit New Zealand- it really is the most beautiful place. I would recommend going White Water Rafting, taking a forestry zip-lining tour, and eating the wonderfully fresh produce.

When you are in the US, what do you most miss about New Zealand and when you go home to New Zealand during breaks, what do you most miss about the US?

Sylvia 3I miss New Zealand food the most- the produce is just more fresh, less processed, and it tastes infinitely better (particularly dairy, meat and apples). When I’m in New Zealand, I miss my friends and the convenience that New York City has to offer. Oh- and the Pizza, of course.

You were born in China, but moved to New Zealand at a young age. Where in China were you born? How old were you when you moved to New Zealand? If you were old enough to remember, did you experience a lot of culture shock when you arrived in New Zealand?

I was four when we immigrated to New Zealand so I remember the move but I wasn’t shocked by much. The biggest barrier for me was learning the language but I was so young that it all happened fairly quickly.

Did you experience culture shock (again) when you moved to New York City to begin your studies at Juilliard? What was the most “shocking” for you?

Absolutely. My first two years at Juilliard were extremely difficult- not really because of the city but rather because the intensity was something that I had never experienced. Suddenly I felt like I needed to remake everything about the way that I approached my instrument and I lost almost all my confidence as a performer.

However, I now reflect upon those two years with pride because I feel like I really overcame some of my insecurities and as a result I become a better person and artist.Nova: Movement and Sound group photo

In 2014, you founded Nova: Movement and Sound. Can you tell our readers a little bit about this project?

When I first got to Juilliard, I was so inspired by not only my fellow musicians, but also the productions of the other departments. As a result, I invited student musicians, choreographers, and dancers to come together to create shows together. To this day, I’m incredibly proud of the three shows that we created during my time here.

You are graduating this May. What are your plans for the summer and next academic year?

I have no idea as of yet! Hopefully I will continue studying somewhere…

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Don’t be afraid to fall – you just might learn to fly in the process.

 

Advertisements

Dror Baitel

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Dror Baitel (http://www.drorbaitel.com/), a second year master’s student studying collaborative piano. Originally from Tel Aviv, Israel, Dror came to the US in 2004 to start his undergraduate degree.  In 2008, Dror graduated from the Mannes School of Music (http://www.newschool.edu/mannes/) with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. Between graduating from Mannes and starting at Juilliard in September of 2015, Dror “established himself in the world of music as a leading talent through his virtuosity and versatility across diverse genres.” In addition to his classical piano performances, Dror has performed on Broadway, has collaborated with various opera, Broadway, and cabaret artists, and has worked in music education at many New York schools. Interested in seeing Dror perform?  Dror’s recital, “To Build A Home,” will take place on February 24th at 8pm in Paul Hall.

dror_011

mickey-lr-practice-14What is your first memory playing the piano and at what point did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Interestingly, I actually first played the organ in Suzuki classes so that was about a year before I started taking piano. I think one of my first memories of playing piano is playing the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ by J.Strauss and making a musical impression on my teacher, I guess it was the first time I felt it! I probably realized I wanted to pursue a career in music at various times in my life, first when I was introduced to my first professional piano teacher at 16 year old, and then after being in the Israeli Army, I felt the music was my calling because I was of no use when I was there.

 

Why did you decide to come to the US to continue your studies?

img_7779

For some reason, New York was very clear to me as place to pursue my studies. I’ve dreamed big and I wanted to be in a place where music is not only appreciated but consumed and demanded by big audiences. New York to me was ideal because of its importance in the world of classical music these days and the center for such talented and accomplished musicians.

What is your favorite part of being a Juilliard student? What is the most challenging?

My favorite part of being at Juilliard is being among the most talented and creative artists in the world. I always am fascinated meeting new students and learning about their work and passions. It inspires me. What is most challenging for me especially as a collaborative pianist is finding time to practice (LOL) since we run around from coachings, rehearsals and classes and we have so much on our plate that we have to learn how to practice very wisely in 15 minutes segments. I accumulate my practice every day through spreading my practice sessions and trying to use every break I get.

What were your first impressions of NYC when you arrived in 2004? Has your opinion of New York changed over the years?

I was very overwhelmed when I arrived in 2004. I was probably a bit culturally shocked. I think it’s the speed of the city and the vast amounts of people that you see every day. Israel is much smaller and you never see as many people like you see in the streets of New York. My opinion has changed over the city and it’s an ongoing love/hate relationship. There’s something about the energy and that ongoing pulse of the city which makes you feel alive and driven with a purpose and that’s what I love most about being here. But sometimes, because I am human, I need a break and so getting out of town could be so wonderful and therapeutic for me.

img_7285

Dror playing a gig at the Mandain Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle.  According to Dror, it is “always nice to play a grand piano…watching Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.”

In addition to being a performer, you have worked as a music educator at various schools and institutions and have been a Gluck Community Service Fellow. What originally attracted you to arts education and what do you like most about it?

Arts Education is one of the most important things in a musician’s journey and my Teaching Fellowship at school has been showing me this through my work with students. Music is a value that needs to be shared and passed on to the next generations and it is my “duty” to share my knowledge so I can create a value in someone else’s experience. I think teaching is something that I now want to continue on doing in my career because not only I am inspired by students but I also learn and grow from my work with them. And I just read that Bach was a teacher his entire life, and he was able to create this huge amount of work! Isn’t it amazing? I always bring something from my experience to share with a student and bring them joy through my teaching!

img_3761

Dror at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine after playing on Duke Ellington’s piano.

Although you are classically trained, you also have experience working in various other musical genres including Broadway. Can you go into some detail about the Broadway and Off-Broadway work you have done?

img_7298

Dror in the Lincoln Center Theater before a “The King and I” rehearsal

Okay, this is an interesting question. I grew up as a theater boy actually, playing and singing musical theater and Disney tunes so I’ve always had the passion for this genre. Then after graduating from undergrad, I went down to Broadway to look for work in the pits and I met a lot of fascinating musicians. So I was able to land a gig and went on to have my Broadway debut playing at Mary Poppins. I’ve also worked on numerous shows as a rehearsal pianist. I found that I have passion for American theater music and that the nostalgia in the music is something that resonates with me. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia to Israel but I also feel nostalgia to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Bernstein. I found through my work, that I am very flexible musically and I can play in many styles. I always and still want to be able to improvise so I can fake jazz pretty well 🙂 But yeah, I always look for theater in the mix because my music is being driven by character and theater almost scenery. I like to create the dimension of a theater experience through my performance.

Looking back on your various engagements over the years, do you have one that sticks out in your mind more than others? If so, can you describe it?

I had to jump in to play for a world premiere of a show that’s now playing on Broadway called Dear Evan Hansen. I had to learn the show in a few days, then had only a single hour rehearsal (!) with the musicians on stage and played and conducted my first show. I was excited and grateful to have this experience because I was playing live on an upper stage with the band while the actors where underneath us. It was also incredible working with an ideal dream team of writers and creatives so I was very fortunate to have this experience.

Far left: Dror with friends on a bike trip in Martha’s Vineyard
Center: Selfie of Dror’s entire family after his sister surprised him for his 30th birthday
Right: Dror with his friends Pasek and Paul, “incredible theater writers who are soon to be Oscar winners for La La Land” according to Dror.

You currently have an O-1 visa which can be challenging to obtain. Many international students who would like to continue to work in the US after graduation are interested in applying for an O-1 visa (https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/o-1-visa-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement).  Can you tell them what that process is like?  Do you have any advice?

The process is not simple and my best advice would be keep all your programs and important letters. Make important connection with musicians who can recommend your work. Get different work experience. And hire a lawyer you trust who knows about artists and O-1. It takes at least 3-6 months to build a good case for O-1.

pic-in-israel

Dror at Kibbutz Be’eri in the south of Israel

Although you have been living in the US since 2004, do you still get homesickness? What do you miss most about Israel?

I do get home sickness, all the time. Except for when I’m busy which is most of the time so I don’t think about it much. But yeah, I miss my sister and my nephew and nieces a lot. My sister is my best friend 🙂

If you were to live and work anywhere in the world, other than the US and Israel, where would you ideally like to live? What about this place attracts you to it?

I would want to work where there’s a community that strives and lives for the arts because this is so important in my life. What attracts me most is the diversity and the differences of the people in this place. And the high level of art being crafted here.

You are expected to complete your graduate degree this May. What are your post-graduation plans?

I am taking my DMA auditions in the spring. I am exploring this at the moment. Definitely interested in conducting an orchestra soon enough. And please come to my recital everyone – Paul Hall Feb 24th at 8pm. TO BUILD A HOME is the theme and it tells a journey through music, in a way my own journey seeking to build a home through my music. There will be Broadway tunes with surprise guests!!

Dror Baitel recital program

Daniel Fung

For March 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Daniel Fung. A native of Vancouver, Canada, Daniel began his studies at The Juilliard School in fall of 2008 as a master’s student majoring in collaborative piano.  In fall of 2011, he began a doctorate of musical arts, and he is expected to graduate this May.   Performance highlights include concerts with the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton symphonies, and recitals at Alice Tully Hall, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and Carnegie Hall. 

Daniel Fung Headshot

Eye on Culture has not featured a DMA student before. Can you tell our readers a bit about the DMA program at Juilliard?  How would you say it differs from other programs?

The DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree at Juilliard is a five year program where admitted students are in residence for the first two years. They take classes and qualifying comprehensive examinations at the end of two years. Then they have up to the next three years to research, write, and complete their dissertation. The seven admitted C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellows represent a broad range of instruments and that is one way in which the program differs from other programs. We stick together for nearly every class for the two year residency and our group is a wonderful and somewhat kooky one. I enjoy each and every one of them. Another difference about the DMA is that it is most likely the last degree that one pursues in their academic careers unless they decide to do post-doctoral work. For me, though, the DMA will most certainly be the last bit of schooling that I undertake.

What advice would you give to current Juilliard students considering a DMA program?

At every significant juncture in life, one should carefully consider their future artistic and career goals. Deciding to do a DMA would be a major undertaking that opens the road to a certain path of future possibilities. The current job market is one that often requires a DMA in order to be considered for an academic position and that is an important detail to consider. That being said, academia is not for everyone and putting one’s time and energy into a DMA may not necessarily be the right fit. Having commensurate professional and performing experience, even without a DMA, would allow one to be considered for such positions should they arise. You alone will know what you want, what you aspire to, and what feels to be the right option for you in that moment. Seek the advice of your mentors and colleagues but ultimately you have to go with what you feel is right for you. I’ve wanted to do a DMA since I started my undergraduate degree as I welcomed the intellectual challenge balanced with the continued playing opportunities. One jokingly says that those in the DMA program spend all of their time in the library. That may be true for some but I have found it extremely feasible to strike a balance between academics and performing without sacrificing the quality or time for either.

You started at Juilliard in 2008 as a master’s student, and now eight years later, you are graduating with a doctorate degree. Do you think Juilliard has changed during this period of time? If so, in what ways?

DSC06331This question makes me sound like I am either an ancient being or I entered the school as a 2-year-old prodigy! Has it already been eight years? I remember that I entered just as Juilliard was finishing the renovations and upgrade to the building. The scaffolding was still there and we saw a lot of the eastern side of the building (Career Services, the famous red stairs, the fifth floor orchestral room, etc.) behind plastic and marked with “Do not enter” signs. In addition to the educational enhancements these spaces allowed, we also gained some desperately needed practice rooms. Being an arts institution, we could add three more floors of practice rooms (at least) and still be needing more but those who remember the period before the renovation remain thankful for everything we gained. Another significant change is seeing Juilliard defining our brand and figuring how to make a mark in the world. The following years will be interesting ones indeed.

image1

After graduation, what will you miss most about Juilliard? What do you think you won’t miss about being a student?DSC04232

I will most likely miss getting to see and meet the concentration of wonderfully talented people that make up Juilliard. I am not only speaking about the students, but also the faculty and staff. How often, outside of school, can you get a couple of your friends together and read a piano quartet? I don’t necessarily think there is any specific thing I will miss about being a student but I am looking forward to having the last training wheels come off. Then I can take what I’ve learned here and go use it as needed as I continue on my career and life journey.

If you had to choose one, what would you say is your greatest career highlight so far?

I think one would have to define “greatest” in order to answer this question and I would substitute “most touching” instead. I still remember the last degree recital that I gave in Calgary and it was a poignant end to that chapter of my life. I had, as one does, invited all of my friends, family, and colleagues and knew that many of them would be in attendance. The concert hall seats 384 people and when I walked out onstage, I remember seeing the entire hall filled. There were maybe 15 empty seats. I remember thinking about how much love and support I felt when they applauded my entrance. Once I had finished the performance, my teacher Marilyn Engle asked where everyone came from since she had never seen such attendance for any event there student or otherwise. There were friends from school, church, the residence hall, as one might expect but there was also the cleaning lady (Mrs. Chan) who brought her family, the chefs (Allan and Amy) who worked in some of the on-campus restaurants and many others like them. That moment showed me how powerfully music could bring people together. I played a challenging program for the listener that did not feature any “standards” but they were there with me every note of the recital. That realization told me how classical music is relevant to the human experience and the importance of us to continue to bring it to people who have never experienced it. We would all be the richer for it.

One of my favorite questions to ask Juilliard students is what they would have studied or pursued as a career if not performing arts. So, what do you think you would be doing if not being a pianist?

I wrestled between music and science when I thought about which path to take for university. In deciding that it would be wiser to do a year of music (continue the momentum) and return to science rather than going at it the other way. I haven’t looked back since. But if science won, I would have pursued medicine as I am passionate about people and would want to do my part to heal others. I would probably want to be a GP (General Practitioner) so I would have maximum contact with people or I would do surgery so as to keep my hands fleet.  I also enjoy languages and other cultures so I possibly could have been a translator or perhaps even a diplomat. As I shared earlier. I’ve already seen how music is a language that allows for instantaneous connection and it’s opened up new places, cultures, and experiences that I never imagined. So, I guess I’m already a diplomat or ambassador through music!

After doing a little investigative reporting (okay, it was just Google), I found that you enjoy traveling the world. Do you have a favorite travel destination?  What makes this place stand out?

DSC00436I have enjoyed every place that I’ve been fortunate to visit but a couple stand out to me. I love Florence and would go back there in a heartbeat. The culture, the history, the food, the scenery, and the list goes on and on. I love Munich for the culture and the energy of that city. Southern France is amazing (I can’t pick a city!) because of the golden way that the sun glows in the sky. It’s impossible to describe unless one has visited but the light is warm and captivating at the same time. There is also the wonderful smell of lavender that is present in the summer. I also love Hong Kong because of my own personal connection (I was born there) and it also has a rich history and delicious food. There are many more places on the bucket list and I know that music will continue to take me to delightful and unexpected places.

During your travels, have you done anything particularly adventurous?

I think an element of adventure is present anytime one leaves their base. One of the earliest adventures that I’ve had was my first time in Salzburg in 2002 and going to the Eisriesenwelt (“World of the Ice Giants”) in Werfen. These are the largest ice caves in the world and extends for more than 42km. We took a train from Salzburg (about 40 minutes), then a bus up the mountain, and climbed the last leg by foot up to the cave’s entrance. We were there during the summer but we wore all of our warmest clothing. I remember sitting in a bench that was carved on the side of the mountain and looking down into a vast chasm. It’s probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights but there was a mini thrill before the ice cave tour. We all wore headlamps as we trekked through about 2km of the caves. It was absolutely breathtaking and since the ice melts and refreezes, the formations are constantly changing. They are also beautifully lit and pictures do not do it justice. I also remember a family trip in 2007 where I was in the Maritime Provinces in my native Canada and visited Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I. for short). We had many wonderful experiences there but I vividly remember being in Saint John, NB (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland) and seeing the beach area go from low tide to high tide. I was actually standing in the water and dared to stay in as long as I could. It was exhilarating. I also remember something involving a can of Coke, a plastic bag, and a lobster but that is for another time. There are many more stories that I would gladly share over coffee or a glass of wine.IMG_5871

Google also told me you enjoy preparing new cuisines. Is there a dish or cuisine you have mastered?  If so, feel free to bring it in to OIA to share 🙂 

I cook a lot of Chinese food because those are the flavours that are familiar and relatively quick to make. The secret is about preparing and marinating things well in advance of the actual cooking time. My roommate has most certainly seen me up at midnight chopping garlic, dicing onions, and cutting ginger slivers so I am all set for the next day. I am always open to trying new foods and there are certain dishes that I will make on special occasions. I can make a mean roasted shoulder of lamb with accompanying vegetables and a chocolate lava cake (crunch on the outside, gooey on the inside) with a dollop of homemade vanilla bean gelato. I also used to bake quite a bit but there isn’t the time for that anymore.

Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

While the interview anDSC06042swers might suggest that I lead a life firing on all cylinders, I am actually a homebody. I prefer my cup of tea (Earl Grey with a thin slice of lemon) and a good book. Despite what might seem to be an inordinately busy schedule, I relish these quiet times and it’s even better when I get to share it with a familiar or new friend. I always love connecting with other people and hearing their stories. Thank you for taking the time to read!

 

See Daniel Fung perform with Pureum Jo during a master class taught by renowned soprano and Juilliard alumna,  Renée Fleming.

Duanduan Hao

Duanduan Hao, a first-year Masters pianist in Juilliard’s Music Division, brought a wealth of knowledge of his native Chinese and French culture to our conversation. In the course of our meeting, I noticed the French mannerisms and nuances so telling of his time spent in Paris. His code switching was between French and English, as with using the French word “Parisien” for the English “Parisian.” Duanduan’s unique cultural mix colors the questions below.

Duanduan Hao 1How did you come to play the piano?
In 1990s China it was a trend for children living in major cities to learn a special skill at school, so some learned an instrument of music like me, others sports, theatre, painting or sculpture. When I was two, I had a neighbor ten years older than me who was learning the piano. My parents found that I always got anxious when I heard the neighbor playing wrong notes! That’s the moment they discovered I was sensitive to piano, so they brought me one and I began to learn to play. That’s basically how my relationship with piano began.

Tell us about your native China.
I was born in the North and moved to Shanghai when I was eleven, so it’s a kind of second native city for me. Shanghai has lots of people, cars, skyscrapers, opportunities, and a very advanced education system. The most amazing feature of the city is that it has a great mixture of Eastern and Western cultures. Shanghai was occupied by Western countries like Germany, France, and England, that constructed parts of the city that still remain today. The architecture beside the river on the Western side is similar to London, while the Conservatory of Shanghai area was occupied by the French so we can see small houses in the French style, with lovely rooftops and colors. Even the trees were planted by French people. The local people in Shanghai are traditional in their way of living and even speaking because they kept their dialect and don’t really speak Mandarin between themselves. This shows the conservative way of the city, so it’s a great mixture of the open-minded and also the traditional.

Duanduan Hao 3You lived in Paris for ten years, starting at age fifteen. What brought you to Paris?
My parents had this plan already when I was little because they always wanted me to get to know different environments and new things – just to open my mind about the world. Also, because I was learning piano, which is really a Western instrument, it was logical for them to send me to the center of Western Europe, Paris. They sent me there to get directly in touch with the source of the culture.

You completed your undergraduate degree at the Sorbonne. Tell us about that.
My concentration was in art history and musicology. It was the most important period of my life; it changed a lot of my opinions of Occidental culture and had a great impact on my piano interpretation. The Sorbonne, founded in 1257, is one of the most ancient universities in the world. It is the second oldest university besides the one in Bologna. It carries a great heritage of the history of Western Europe. The Latin section in Paris is amazing for study and for culture. It is amazing to think that in the small cafes you pass by, there were once people like Hugo and Balzac drinking coffee and writing. You can also see the Notre Dame de Paris through the windows of the classrooms.

Now, the age-old question: New York or Paris?
For living, definitely Paris. For enriching experiences and developing a career, New York. It’s more adaptable. And I think New York is a place for young people to stay because it is so dynamic. Paris can sometimes get a little too quiet and a little too slow.

Duanduan Hao 4What do you think is the main challenge of being an international student?
The adaptation. We have to adjust ourselves as soon as possible to a new environment and have the courage to present ourselves to the new world, to meet new people, new friends. It seems simple, but it is not an easy thing to do when we first get to a new place and we don’t know anyone. This did not happen when I moved to the U.S. because I had many friends who were living, studying and working here. It happened when I was in France. I didn’t speak the language yet, was barely able to pronounce a few words, and didn’t have anyone I knew. It was really a difficult moment. I had to have an open mind to receive and absorb every moment in these new surroundings.

What aspect of U.S. culture most surprised you?
The open-minded spirit, especially of people that live in New York, to the outside world. I talked with a few newcomers, and we all find that we can easily become a New Yorker once we’ve settled in the city. This doesn’t happen in other cities and more closed societies. It was after five or six years in Paris that I could finally consider myself a “Parisien.” There, you have to just make an effort to go into that society, to make yourself a place. But here, you already have a place. They just receive you as who you are, as a member of the city.

What aspect of your home country do you miss the most?
The food! Also, we feel a security when we stay in our country, like a tree with deep roots. It’s really stable and feels comfortable. But here, we’re like newly planted trees so we have to develop our own roots by ourselves. This is the most exciting part about it – adventure. I’m enjoying this moment of developing a new relationship with the new world.

Duanduan Hao 2What do you think is the most common misconception of China?
The most frequently asked question when I was in France and Europe was, “Do you have lots of trouble getting approved to come to Europe to study music and art?” This proves that their knowledge of China still remains in the 70s. They don’t know that the society has evolved and become so different. It is not a sealed and closed society with no contact with the outside world anymore. I wish to encourage people to know the new China, and welcome them to visit themselves if they are interested in what is going on in my country.

How have you experienced culture shock outside of China?
I think in the opposite way of thinking. In China, we have this tradition to think our ancestors are always right, and did greater things than us. If we look at Meditation One of Descartes, the way of thinking is to delve into what is already there and prove whether it is correct or not instead of believing what the ancestors said. This is radically different from how we normally think in China. There’s also a difference of religion, in terms of notions about God. In China we don’t talk about this in most families, but here, sometimes, we have to get in touch with and discuss elements of the Bible. In China the Bible is most commonly perceived as a romance or a legendary story. I have friends from France who study the Bible the same way they study laws, so that’s completely different.

In reflecting on your experience in the U.S., what are the first three words that come to mind?
I loved it!

Correction: April 3, 2015

An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the oldest university in the world. It is in Bologna, not Polonia.