December 09, 2009

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Li WanBy Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — As a student at a top preparatory school in China, Li Wan learned early on about the Ivy League and state universities in the United States. 

Most of her classmates who planned to pursue their undergraduate careers abroad had their sights set on those larger, well-known schools. But Wan had a different idea of what was best for her. 

"I realized a small, liberal arts school would suit me more, because there is more individual attention," Wan, now a Bucknell University senior, recalled. "You don't get that in a big school."

Blog leads to book contract
A mathematics and economics double major, Wan has co-authored a book with two other students - Yongfang Chen, a senior at Bowdoin College, and Lin Nie, a senior at Franklin and Marshall College - about their experiences attending top liberal arts institutions. About 10,000 copies have sold in China since the book was released in July under the title Bo Yi Mei Guo Ben Ke, which literally means "The Game Theory of American Liberal Arts Education." The book has been featured in articles in Inside Higher Ed and The New York Times.

Chen, who secured the book contract for A True Liberal Arts Education (China Publishing Group, 2009), as it is titled in English, invited Wan to join the project after reading her blog about her life as a Bucknell student. The book is written almost entirely in Chinese and includes autobiographical accounts as well as reflective essays about the students' experiences at their respective schools.

In her section, "Crossing the International Dateline," Wan discusses her adjustment to American culture, her academic experiences, her first visit to the United States and how the college admissions process differs from that in China.  

"The three of us were instructed to follow the same topics, which were more or less formulated, but then talk about our own experiences with American culture and diversity," Wan explained.

Atypical family
As a child in urban Wu Han, Wan in many ways was typical of young students in China, competing from an early age for spots in the top elementary, middle and high schools so she could go to a top college or university in China or the United States. Her family, however, was atypical. Her mother, a professor and university administrator, and her father, the chief financial officer of a pharmaceutical company, gave her the freedom to choose her educational path.

She first heard about Bucknell during a three-month exchange program at the Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh. The idea of going to a smaller university offering a rigorous, well-rounded liberal arts education was appealing to her, so she applied and was accepted.

When Wan first came to Bucknell, she was shy and quiet, she said. Now, she is president of the Chinese Cultural Association and an orientation assistant for International Student Orientation. She also was involved this fall in organizing the international China Conference at Bucknell, where she gave the concluding speech at the farewell banquet.

Wan has completed internships in finance in Philadelphia, London and Beijing that have piqued her interested in macro-economics policy and investment. She recently received a job offer from Goldman Sachs investment bank in New York City.

"A well-rounded liberal arts education teaches you more how to think and learn," Wan said. "Personally, I've grown so much since freshman year. I am definitely getting a quality education and rigorous training in math and economics.

"Other than that, it has taught me how to interact with people from different backgrounds, communication skills, time management and life balance. I have learned how to live on my own and be independent, and, most importantly, to be dependable."

Contact: Division of Communications