By Carlin Carr
A long way from China, but always at home
When Xinyu "Hazel" Wang announced to her middle-school class of 80 that she was leaving for the United States, they were shocked. Kids from her small town of Zhengzhou, China just didn't study abroad like that. "If you were from Beijing or Shanghai, it was normal," Hazel explains, "but not in Zhengzhou. People there don't normally go to the U.S. for high school because they think it's too early. But there are some students who go to American colleges."
Hazel was ready for the challenge. Her parents were adventurers, and had brought her on many trips to different countries. In the seventh grade, Hazel travelled around the U.S., and then spent the year in a Los Angeles school – an experience that set her sights on pursuing her education further in the U.S.
When she returned to China, she met with counselors who guided her through her applications for high school. When she decided on Walker's, she also had yet another mystery to explain to her friends – what exactly is an all-girls' school? "We only have one all-girls' school in my whole province," says Hazel. "I'm from the middle of China, and it's quite a conventional place."
Always willing to try something new, Hazel packed her suitcase, said goodbye to her close-knit group of friends and headed for Connecticut. The transition to the rural campus – quite different from her time in Los Angeles – went smoothly. She credits her parents with exposing her to new places to help her feel at home in many places in the world and the welcoming community that awaited her at Walker's.
Learning the value of an all-girls' education
Although the all-girls' experience was a new concept for Hazel, she can now happily explain all that her "unusual" education has provided her. "Being in an all-girls' school led me to think about issues I didn't know about, like social justice, and I learned about sexism, racism, and so many other things."
As importantly, Hazel says, Walker's helped her to speak up, speak out and try new things. That's very different from her co-ed experience growing up in Zhengzhou. "When I was in China, I never talked in class," says Hazel.
At Walker's she's been a leader both in and out of the classroom. In her freshman year, Hazel, a talented flutist, joined the orchestra and the next year, ran for the head of it. "Usually that is a position for a junior or senior," says Hazel. "It requires a lot of public speaking, and helped me gain my voice."
Hazel joined varsity cross-country, and decided to try out for a musical, even though she had always been embarrassed to dance.
What keeps her pushing herself, she says, is that everyone around her is striving to be their very best. Surrounded by so many outstanding scholars, engineers, athletes, and musicians, she says she felt compelled to test herself to reach her highest level. "It's wonderful to see how young women have so many accomplishments in their lives," says Hazel. "They are all so inspiring to me."
A transformative experience
Her willingness to step out comes from a community that is "so supportive," including classmates, administrators and faculty. Hazel says she enjoyed the out-of-class, informal discussions with faculty as much as the intellectual rigor and dynamic inside the classroom. She recalls many philosophical talks with Music Department Chair Mrs. MacAlpine about music and its transcendent ability to touch people's souls.
That deep connection with music is what drives Hazel to practice her flute for six hours a day, in addition to keeping up with her studies and even playing sports.
"Walker's has completely changed my value of everything. Before, I just wanted to be a musician. But since coming here, I'm interested in literature and philosophy, even sports, which is really rare for me. I was never the girl who ran on the playground."
Hazel is heading to Vanderbilt University – a place that will be, in many ways, a totally different experience than Walker's. It's in the South and co-ed, which Hazel says excites her. She's looking forward to be in an urban environment again and in the music city of Nashville. She's also ready to continue exploring and to "make friends from a new part of the country."
For Hazel, Walker's helped open her eyes to the many aspects of the world and her own interests that she looks forward to pursuing more in college.
"There are so many things to explore and to be passionate about," she says. It's perhaps the best motto and mindset to have as she and her fellow seniors head off into the world.