Xiannong MengI received my undergraduate degree from Southeast University in China. My parents didn't attend college. So we didn't have much clue about colleges, about the application process, and about the college majors. When the opportunity of applying for college came in 1977 after a 12-year interruption due to the cultural revolution, I applied for the majors in the area of electronics and industry engineering, mostly because of what I did before college. In middle school and high school I learned and enjoyed assembling transistor radios from parts. After high school, I worked as an electrician in a chemical plant. The work in these areas seem interesting, that is why I applied for those majors. But in my days, applicants did not necessarily get into the majors of their choice. I ended up being a math major. Though it wasn't my choice, I soon became enjoying math classes, and I can see the usefulness of the subject.

My biggest challenge in college was the transition from high school to college. I was at the top of my high school class. But when in college, I could no longer be the top student in class. It was not because I became any dumber, but because some other students are much more advanced. Because China stopped normal college admissions for 12 years, my classmates have a 17-year age difference between the oldest and the youngest! I didn't give up, but worked hard to learn from others in many aspects. I learned how to manage time, how to tackle difficulty problems, how to discuss issues with others, and how to live in college which in a certain sense is a small society. At the end I did fine academic-wise. But I think most importantly, I learned many lessons in my college experience outside the classrooms.

In addition to attending classes and finishing assignments, I participated in a number of other activities. I played intramural sports such as basketball, volleyball, and running. Southeast University, like many other universities in China in those days, organized very active student intramural sports. Every year, we would have a comprehensive sports competition, like a mini-Olympics, where students in all classes would compete in many events and win champions. Through those sports practice and competition, the students form a strong bond. The friendship we started there last life-long. I also was active in student government and helped in many daily issues.

College years help us grow in the most important ways! The experience will impact us the entire life. Grab the opportunity, don't waste any time.


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