'I had to complete my junior year in China because of the pandemic'

Jingkai Liu

Classics and Government
Chongqing, China 

What are the most valuable skills you gained from your Arts & Sciences education?

The most valuable skill I gained from my education is the way to approach and examine a topic critically and in all of its dimensions. I have learned to never take a thing for granted, be it a concept, a narrative, or a system, and to always look for how it comes to be. Through this deeper analysis, it is possible to locate a subject in all of its contingencies and embedments within deeper structures, so that there can be an opening for improvement based on the subject's own terms. My education at Cornell has taught me the complexity and interconnectedness of the world around me. The only way to treat it with due respect is to respond and act in ways that are equally rigorous and self-reflective. 

What Cornell memory do you treasure the most?

man sitting on dock

I treasure my junior year, when I had to do Cornell's study-away program in China because of the pandemic. I was essentially living in two worlds — taking classes at a Chinese university as part of the program and doing a daytime internship and at night going to Cornell classes and club sessions on Zoom. It was A LOT of work, but I felt very connected to the Cornell community. It was great to see that despite all the hardship brought on by the pandemic, all of us at Cornell were still going to the same classes and doing the same extracurricular activities, even though in person we were scattered all over the world. My midnight class sessions provided me with a sense of stability and assurance when we were in a time of great uncertainty, that no matter what happened we would still go on with our routines, albeit in a virtual format, and that Cornell still beaconed as a place of belonging, even though we were an ocean apart. I also developed a sense of solidarity with other Cornell students in China who, like me, were also waking up late at night to go to classes. It was also fun to explore the city of Beijing in my free time, while still being anchored at Cornell. It was like moving the Cornell campus to a vibrant metropolis in the middle of China. My junior year was an unforgettable mix of adversity and personal growth that will always be meaningful to me.

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

man holding little dog

My proudest accomplishment at Cornell is being part of the government department's honors thesis program. The thesis-writing class I took the fall semester of my senior year brought me into contact with students who are equally dedicated to their topics, as well as people who share the same interest in political theory as I do. Being in the program has really broadened my horizons. I am able to explore and try out different directions in which my thesis could go. Even if one does not prove to be viable in the end, I have still gained valuable experience and knowledge that I know will propel me in the future. My time in the program has taught me a lot about how to do independent research, how to work with my advisors, how to engage with my peers from across different fields and finally how to study patiently and effortfully for a subject that I am passionate about. 

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first year student, what would you say?

Be open to all the amazing people around you. Cornell brings in an exceptionally diverse range of people from all walks of life and across the world. It is OK to feel disoriented and want to withdraw into small bubbles, but you can learn so much more by actively reaching out to the many experiences, perspectives and personalities around you.


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