"Honestly, I have enjoyed every class I have taken"

February 22, 2016

Xinyi Chen '17

Major: Near Eastern Studies

Minor: Jewish Studies

Hometown: Shanghai, China

Why did you choose Cornell?

The most important reason is that the faculty of Cornell have distinguished academic and research achievements, which they also integrate into their teaching. As I gathered more information about Cornell, I found the courses and programs offered in the Near Eastern Studies major especially appealing. Moreover, Cornell’s emphasis on diversity, of academics and of social backgrounds, reassured me that as an international student, my transition to college would not be difficult. Lastly, having lived in a large city where winter is relatively mild, I was curious about how life could be in upstate New York.

Why did you choose your major?

I have always been fascinated by the rich history and culture of the Middle East. When I was young, I benefited much from my father’s keen interest in religions, cultures and international affairs. He brought piles of books back home and I read most of them. I became particularly interested in the region of modern Israel and Palestine, where religion, history, nationalism and modernization intertwine. My dream, shaped gradually as I grew up, is to help in the peace-making process by building up understanding between young people from different backgrounds. Looking back at my application documents, I was amazed by my own passion. “I would like to take courses such as History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (taught by Professor Brann),” I wrote almost three years ago, and I did take it this fall.

What has been your favorite class at Cornell so far and why?

It is really difficult to pick a single class. Honestly, I have enjoyed every class I have taken.

NES 2754 (Dr. Toorawa) – Introduction to Near Eastern Civilizations, the Wondrous Literatures

I took this class during my first semester at Cornell. We read and discussed ancient works as well as modern ones, poems as well as short stories, drawing samples from the Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew literary traditions. The broad selection of course materials and the splendid artistry of the authors led me to a world composed of emotion and beyond conflicts.

NES 3519 (Iago Gocheleishvili) – State and Society in Modern Iran (through film and literature)

As far back as I can remember, Iran has always been the mysterious country in the Middle East. Neither its domestic development nor involvement in regional affairs was reported with evidence and certainty. The cinema and literature in the 20th and 21st centuries reflect various facades of the cultural, social and political themes in Iran.

Where is your favorite study spot at Cornell?

Mann Library, second floor by the window.

What are you involved with at Cornell? Why are these activities important to you?

International Student Admissions Ambassadors.

We send personalized emails to prospective international students, provide advice about the application process and promote Cornell on social media. Working with the Undergraduate Admissions Office helps me better understand what Cornell values. It is also a fulfilling experience to assist international students who might be as confused and worried as I was about studying abroad.

FYSA Student Advisor.

We help the First Year Spring Admission freshmen adjust to college life. It might not be easy to come to Cornell one semester later than the students of the same year and make new friends.

Kendo Club at Cornell.

I believe that joining a competitive martial arts club requires getting strong not only physically, but also mentally. Therefore, for the past five semesters, I have remained committed to the club, participating in basically every practice. I also treasure the camaraderie in our team.

What is your favorite Cornell memory?

At the Cornell Kendo Tournament of 2015, I scored points for the first time and won a third prize in the women’s division.

What do you value about your liberal arts education?

I am grateful that the College of Arts and Sciences puts much emphasis on foreign languages. Currently, I am studying two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, and I hope to pick up one more language during my senior year.

The courses within the major further nurtured my interest in the Near East, while the distribution requirements constantly remind me of the bigger world and broaden my horizons.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully I will finish my PhD in five years. Ten years later, I might be working with non-governmental organizations in the Middle East or teaching in a college. 

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