Two soon-to-be graduates on preparing for college and life after Beijing
Alex Crossman is gearing up for freshman year in the US
After a decade in Beijing, Alex Crossman is ready to move on. “I’m really looking forward to starting a new chapter of my life,” she says with excitement. Moving on is in Alex’s blood – Hong Kong-born, she lived in Singapore and then Arizona before becoming a member of Beijing’s Shunyi community.
“Now that I’ve lived here for over ten years I don’t feel like an expat. Beijing’s definitely my hometown,” says Alex, “though I don’t feel Chinese either.” The nature of her identity is an issue often taken up by strangers, Alex tells us, who audibly wonder whether or not she is Chinese. Practically bilingual, Alex takes pleasure in explaining to curious Beijing audiences that she is half-American, half-Chinese.
Although Alex will miss her family and friends and life at the Western Academy of Beijing, where she has gone to school since 1997, the freedom and independence that come with attending college on the other side of the world are becoming more and more appealing. Alex visibly bubbles with excitement when she talks about Wake Forest University, in North Carolina.
“I think it’s the perfect size for a college. It’s not so big that I won’t be able to make an impact, but it’s big enough to have its own personality – and of course a great social life! Oh, and it’s a beautiful campus.” Alex is also looking forward to a little more breathing space – Wake Forest has only 980 undergraduates on its roughly 320 acres.
Alex is not worried about what to pack for college so much as what she’s going to eat once she gets there. “I can see I’m going to miss Chinese food a lot, so I’m getting my mother to teach me some dishes, and hopefully I’ll be able to make them at uni.” What else will she miss? “Beijing prices. It’s nice being able to afford things!”
Her high school friends are scattering across the globe, but Alex plans to stay in contact. “I’m hoping people will come and visit me, and I’ll be back in Beijing for the holidays, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to stay in touch. I guess I’ll have to wait and see …”
Ellis Pugh is off to university in England
“I’ve always seen Beijing as a temporary home away from home,” Ellis Pugh confesses in his distinctive Derbyshire accent. “Having already lived in three separate countries by the time I got here, it would be impossible to think that I’d be spending the rest of my life in one place.”
Ellis’ next location is just on the horizon. After 18 short months in Beijing, he’s packing his bags and preparing to return home to England to start university. Inspired by his experiences in international living (England, Wales and Hong Kong have all been host to Ellis and his defiant hairstyle), Ellis is off to study geography at prestigious Durham University.
When pressed, Ellis will admit to being head boy of Harrow International School Beijing, but shrugs off this achievement with a series of non-committal noises from the back of his throat. If you can peel back his veil of modesty a stage further, you’ll find that Ellis also speaks fairly fluent Welsh, and has represented Wales in international fencing competitions. He intends to pursue his serious fencing habit at Durham.
Formerly a Shunyi resident, Ellis and his parents recently moved to an apartment just a stone’s throw from the Lama Temple, closer to the pulse of Beijing – far preferable for someone with a hunger for Chinese culture. “I see the attraction of Shunyi living,” says Ellis, “but for my last few months in Beijing I’m glad to be submerged in a more Chinese way of life. Beijing’s definitely the most exciting city I’ve lived in; I’m almost expecting Britain to feel slightly stale in comparison.”
With its quaintly cobbled streets and doilied-windows, its hilltop castle and cathedral, Durham is certainly a world away from Beijing’s dusty high-rises and ring roads. There were several factors that influenced Ellis’ decision to spend the next three years of his life there. Firstly, the university is consistently ranked one of Britain’s best. Then there’s the appeal of its collegiate system. Like Oxford and Cambridge, Durham separates its students into different colleges, a setup that Ellis hopes will create a more intimate and personalized university experience. Ellis will be making his home in the attractive and historic St. Mary’s College, originally founded in the very late 19th century. “I think Durham’s architecture in general is stunning, especially at some of the older colleges. It almost makes up for it apparently having the worst nightlife in Europe!”
What else is on Ellis’s mind as he prepares to ship off? “I’m looking forward to all sorts: the general sense of ‘being home,’ the countryside appeal, the British student lifestyle, being able to turn on a radio and fully understand what’s being talked about, knowing that university resources will be in my own language, all that sort of thing. But actually most of all I’m looking forward to cups of English tea and a slice or two of freshly baked homemade cake!”