Global Heels: Henry Li, China

January 3, 2014
Henry Li

Henry Li is an undergraduate majoring in political science and minoring in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE). 

Where are you from and what is your country known for?

I am from the city of Beijing in the People’s Republic of China. China is famous for many things, including its food, huge population, diverse culture, variety of languages and dialects and its long history.

What languages do you speak?

Mandarin Chinese, English, a little French–and I am learning Russian at the moment!

Why did you choose to study in the United States? And why at UNC?

I had heard about liberal arts education in the United States since I was a kid, and having more freedom in my course selections and majors was appealing. Many Chinese kids want to attend school here. U.S. colleges offer an international nature and diversity that many Chinese universities can’t.

I was interested in Chapel Hill because I wanted to explore true American culture in a smaller town. The American South fascinated me because I wanted to try something very different from where I came from. As it turned out, I love it! And have been here ever since!

What unique perspectives do you feel you bring to your classrooms as an international student?

As a political science student, I can bring an alternative source of information about China as well as another thinking style to my friends and classmates. Media in China and media in the United States represent things quite differently, and so by being here my horizons have been opened, and I can bring in a Chinese perspective too. In addition, political science is studied very differently in China, so I bring that perspective as well.  I often debate issues with friends here, and try to provide them with perspectives that they may disagree with or are totally new to them, and this builds strong friendships as well.  There is a Chinese proverb that says “If you do not ever argue with someone, you cannot be true friends.”

Which course at UNC have you enjoyed the most and why?

I really enjoyed POLI 206, taught by Donna LeFebvre,a  political science professor. The course is a seminar about morality, ethics and law. We had many projects and our professor took us to courts and debates on campus. As freshmen and sophomores, we were urged to write continuously and challenged to read legal documents and to write our own briefings. This class inspired me to become a political science major.

Tell us about a professor who has motivated you.

There have been multiple, but Donna LeFebvre definitely had a great impact on me, in that her class inspired me to become a political science major (I had originally entered the university as an economics major). Another professor is Xi Chen, associate professor in the Department of Political Science working on comparative politics. He offered us the chance to study topics with an in-depth perspective and was very informative and always offered help in his lectures. He has also served as a mentor helping me find campus organizations on Sino-U.S. relations.

henry li quoteWhat do you like best about UNC, and how is it different from universities in your home country?

Although it is in a small town, UNC is a big school. And although it is a big school, there is a definite sense of community. I have been able to meet interesting, diverse people while still maintaining a relationship with my close friends. I love the Saturday football games and listening to the marching band. Universities in China are different in that they tend to be larger and numerous, and tend to focus on big lecture courses rather than smaller seminar courses. UNC is also more diverse than many Chinese universities. There are students from many cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. The campus is also amazing. I love the amount of trees and squirrels. We don’t have as many of these on Chinese campuses!

What do you like best about living in Chapel Hill, and how is it different from your hometown?

I love the air. It is much cleaner and more breathable than in Beijing. Surprisingly enough, I have also found that there are similarities between Chinese and Southern food. For instance, in China we have something similar to grits, called congee or porridge.

Chapel Hill and the neighboring town of Carrboro are also really big on music, which I love.

What have been the biggest challenges in adjusting to life in Chapel Hill and as a student at UNC?

A challenge for me was that I lacked prior exposure to American culture, so I did not know all of the references that fellow students made. I had to push myself to learn things, by watching American TV shows – I learn a lot of slang from these.  Trying to find overlaps in previous educational experiences and finding like-minded people was not hard, but it was still a challenge. I’ve learned to keep an open mind and embrace different cultures and opinions.

Which campus activities do you most enjoy at UNC?

I just recently started with the UNC Men’s Glee Club, which I really enjoy because I love music. I am also involved in the Human Rights Center. I used to serve on a subcommittee called Refugee Committee Partnerships. We provide assistance, healthcare, education, legal aid and financial advising to help refugees explore opportunities, mainly for Karen refugees from Burma. I am also involved in the Carolina-China Network. We do a lot of on-campus seminars and roundtable discussions, all related to U.S.-China relations. Every spring we host our annual China Leadership Summit as a joint effort with Duke.

If you could introduce student activities from your hometown to UNC students, what would they be?

First, I would introduce karaoke, the way we do it in China. In China we take karaoke seriously and it is a big group event, a way to celebrate.  I would also introduce martial arts in a bigger way, especially Chinese ones such as Tai Chi. It is a softer martial art, but requires force and stamina. In fact there is a very good organization on campus called Carolina Tai Chi, which I helped to found, which meets a couple times a week and I would encourage people to attend!

Why should international students consider attending UNC? What advice would you offer an incoming international student?

UNC is a place that will amaze them. It is a small town but everything happens here. We have world-class education and research that is made accessible to undergraduate students. It is also an affordable place for international students. The liberal culture is great as the campus is open to all. There are conservative and liberal voices, as well as voices of different religions and cultures.

My advice for incoming international students is to study super hard their freshman year! UNC has a different dynamic and pace than Chinese universities, and maybe other international universities as well. Also when you get in, try to learn more about Chapel Hill and what Chapel Hill can offer. If you like even one thing that you see, come and you will not regret it!

What are you currently reading?
First and foremost, I am reading a lot of political science papers for my classes. I am also currently reading Treasure Island as well as some Tolstoy works and excerpts, some works of contemporary Russian writers to understand their mindset, the Bible for interest and to understand America and the world better, and a book called Taliban by Ahmed Rashid, in order to understand more about a part of the Middle East and the issues going on there. Finally, for the Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) Reading Group I am reading de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. So I am reading a lot!