By Yixuan Zang, Chinese Social Media
The Pitt to You program helps international students adapt to the new University life. In previous years, the program has organized three-day trips to Beijing and Shanghai in China. However due to COVID-19, the program instead organized online workshops with offline activities. Students were able to register online and meet and communicate directly with the student ambassadors. Program information was provided by Dr. James A. Cook (Associate Director, Asian Studies Center) and the Pitt to You website. If interested in more information, please check the Pitt to You website: http://www.pitt2you.pitt.edu/
I was very happy to interview with Anthony Gavazzi and Lynnea Lombardi who were the student ambassadors in previous years. Lynnea shared “Pitt to You is how I first met Kyoungah Lee, who now supervises me in my role as the graduate intern for Global Ties. She has become my greatest professional mentor and my role model as an international student affairs professional. I am thankful for the connections I was able to make with her and with all the incredible Pitt to You staff members during the program. I remember at the end of the trip having a long conversation with Richard Sherman and Jonathan Richards (who have both since moved on to other institutions) about my interest in international higher education and their advice shaped my career path. Pitt to You helped me develop a professional direction and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”
Here’s the interview with our student ambassadors from previous year.
- Why did you choose to be a Pitt to You ambassador?
Lynnea: In college I really enjoyed making friends with international students. Pitt to You sounded like a great opportunity to meet more international students and learn about their lives in their own home country.
Anthony: I had always dreamed about going to China, and I really enjoyed mentoring
students as an RA, so I felt like I had no choice but to apply to Pitt to You.
- What do you remember most about your trip in China? Was it the sites? Food? People?
Lynnea: Of course, I will always remember my mentees and the relationships we built. As for other highlights, I grew up in a small town and Pittsburgh is not a major world city, so when I saw the Shanghai skyline at night it was surreal. I felt like I was in a movie. I also remember riding over the Great Wall of China on a chairlift with one of my mentees and feeling captivated by the view of the mountains.
Anthony: I think the most breathtaking moment was looking at the Shanghai skyline from the Bund, but hiking the Great Wall of China is another memory I will never forget! My mentees were super friendly and welcoming, and I’m still in touch with them today. I tried a lot of interesting foods, including pig intestine, and it was all delicious!
- What was the challenge that you had in your trip in China?
Lynnea: It was challenging for me to start our work almost immediately after landing in China. My body doesn’t adjust to time differences very well and I felt a little sick the first day or two. But the team was very supportive, and we were having so much fun and learning so much that it didn’t even matter!
Anthony: I did not really experience any challenges in China. Before my trip, people told me I may have a bad reaction to all the new foods, but I somehow managed going the entire trip without a stomach ache! Unfortunately, not all of the other mentors could say the same.
- What was the best part about working with the international students from China? And what was the hardest part?
Lynnea: Connecting with people from other cultures is truly one of my greatest joys in life. I liked being in China because it made me vulnerable. I didn’t know anything so I relied on my mentees for help ordering food and getting around. When my mentees came to Pittsburgh, I was able to reciprocate by helping them with food suggestions and getting around the city. That reciprocal piece is so important; it’s a mutual relationship rather than a didactic one.
I remember when one of my mentees first arrived on campus in the fall. She was beaming with excitement and telling me about all the things she was going to do at Pitt. I was so happy for her that she was excited about her new journey. That was a really rewarding moment for me. That’s what is so amazing about Pitt to You program: its not just the 2-week trip to China, but supporting the students’ growth over time from June to the fall semester.
The hardest part is that sometimes everyone feels shy meeting each other and it can be challenging to push through that at first. Once you work through that, you can have a highly rewarding relationship.
Anthony: The best part about working with the Chinese students was sharing laughs with them while singing karaoke or telling jokes around the hot pot table. I really found that we are all more similar than we are different, regardless of where we come from. The hardest part was probably getting to know the more introverted students at first, but we were all close friends by the end of the trip.
- Did working with Chinese students change your view of the world?
Lynnea: Yes! It was very important for me to see things from their perspective, quite literally by being in their home country. I was so intrigued by what I learned that I decided to pursue a career in international higher education. I work with many Chinese students in my internship now and having that Pitt to You experience has helped me understand their perspective.
Anthony: Yes. As Americans, I think we easily misunderstand China as a country that is very much isolated from the rest of the world. This is certainly not the case. After meeting these students, I have found that they share a lot of the same pop culture interests as American students and are very knowledgeable about world affairs and current events. I think there is also a stereotype that because the education system in China is so rigorous, Chinese students tend to have a more serious attitude, but we met some of the most funny, laidback people I’ve ever met on this trip. Like I said in my previous response, we are all more alike than we are different.
- Since Pitt to You program goes totally online this semester, do you have any recommendations for current ambassadors that could help to overcome difficulties?
Lynnea: I love this question because I am actually beginning a project right now to understand how to maximize the experience of virtual peer mentorship. I think you have to eliminate the word “awkward” from your vocabulary and embrace the experience. Keep in mind your “why” (make connections between domestic and international students, create a more global Pitt community, help new Pitt students have a great experience) and let that guide you. I admire the 2020 Pitt to You team for making the best of a tough situation.
Anthony: I would recommend virtual, “face-to-face” contact whenever possible. If you’re finding it is hard to get a conversation started between your mentees, play some kind of virtual game-it will be fun and get people talking to each other.