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One is never too old to learn

By Ying Yee Wong

Yan Lei is a Chinese student at Intensive English Institute. As a full-time student, she must attend school from Monday to Friday. Before moving to the US and becoming a full-time student, she worked in China for over 20 years.

It was a big decision in her life to switch from a stable life to a new life full of uncertainty, living in a new country without local working experience. When she first moved to the US three years ago, she was 44 years old.

"I think uncertainty made me possible to get another position, another level in my life," Lei said. After getting divorced in China, her 8-year-old son followed her to live in the US.

Yan Lei always believed we are never too old to learn, which makes her constantly confronted with uncertainty and got a lot of opportunities in her whole life.

She was born in a small village in China. After taking Gaokao (National College Entrance Examination in China), she successfully got into the Anhui University of Finance and Economics. She then finished a graduate study at Peking Univerisity, one of the best universities in China. Her solid foundation helped her get a financial reporter job in CCTV, which is the largest national television broadcaster in China. Billions of China's citizens would watch this channel every day.

This was her first job, and she was lucky to interview many financial professionals and indirectly expand her networks. People who met in the workplace and the working experience changed her way of thinking and even changed her life path. "I like to think about something with my own thinking and with my own attitude," she said.

While being a financial reporter, she always wanted to achieve self-enhancement by studying, so she continued to study at the China University of Political Science and Law, another famous university in Beijing. After working at the national TV station for a few years, she realized she was unsatisfied with this reporter job as she did not achieve this role's responsibilities. Being a reporter in China can only work on some soft news issues rather than hard news to criticize the country, and she was also not able to work on investigative news to reveal the hidden part of the country. Thus, she gradually felt meaningless to be a reporter because she thought she could not improve the country from the job.

Therefore, the next job in her career was to become the governor of the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC), an occupation that she thought would be more meaningful and interesting. Besides its affiliation with the Chinese government, it is also a non-profit organization. She was finally able to modify the policy to her responsibilities in the human resources department for almost 20 years. She did a lot of research to protect the human rights of people in the sports industry. However, after a new president took office in this organization, she could no longer modify the policies because the president thought it was better to remain unchanged. The policy modification would raise citizens' awareness and lead to social fear. Therefore, the president commanded the COC members not to modify the policies. Yan Lei felt like her role had become useless.

Though Yan Lei did not have the right to review and modify the policies, she still needed to work most of the time. Chinese seem to like working no matter what industry. In other words, working in China means people have to spend a lot of time staying in offices in the past before virtual offices become popular. Working from 8 in the morning and leave from the office at 9 pm is very common in China.

But to Yan Lei, this is not the life she wanted. She would always love to have a work-life balance and spend more time with her son, "you have no time to spend with the family. And I found that that's not just not healthy for the kid when he grows up. So I tried to change it."

Spending more time with her son is not the only reason to let her step out of her comfort zone, sacrifice a stable life in China, and begin a new life in the US in her mid forty. The pollution also made her determined to get away from the country.

The pollution in Beijing has been serious for a long time, and PM 2.5 is always heavy. She said the US air pollution is lighter than China, and the US would be a country that brought her son a better future.

Moreover, She wanted to live in a new country where people won't care about her privacy after she divorced. She said China is a relationship-oriented and collectivistic society where people always care about her privacy. Here, the individualistic culture makes her feel her privacy is well protected.

Though she wanted to start a new life in the US, she only applied student visa to study English in the state. This visa only allows her to study in the US for five years, while her son can live in the US legally with holding an F2 visa, which is only for an F1 visa holder's spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years old) to join her staying in the US during their period of study.

Even though they live in a new country, Yan Lei's teaching method is similar to most traditional Chinese parents. She let Jason participate in different extracurricular activities in various fields, including sports, music, and languages. For example, he plays soccer and taekwondo in sports activities. The fee for different extracurricular activities also becomes a massive spend to Yan Lei.

Yan Lei admitted she is affected by other friends in China, "we continue to have a relationship with China. Sometimes when I see some friends posted on WeChat, I hear all their kids pass the exam and to another level, where I may feel nervous."

Since she is holding an F1 visa now and is not allowed to work outside the campus, many of her friends also doubted how she could make a living here. She explained her financial major let her become professional in making investments. She already has a foundation and several properties in Beijing and Wuhan. She even owns a company in China. Financial independence gives her the braveness to start a completely new life. She can try many new things with an excellent financial situation.

Yan Lei is so accustomed to living in Champaign that she has already made some good friends and always organizes gatherings. "I have some friends in here. We're nice, good friends here. Like yesterday, I recently met another family. His son is the same age as my son. So yesterday we went to ice hockey practice in the morning. And his kid like to play at my home with my son. So he came here."

Living in Champaign for a few years, she found that her lifestyle changed a lot. She used to buy luxury bags and clothes in China because everyone is so materialistic, and luxury products symbolize wealth to show other people. But now, she prefers to wear comfortable clothes because she only cares about her happiness instead of how others treat her.

She enjoys living in the US, but she needs to consider a problem: how to live in the US after her student visa is expired. She said she could apply for immigration. Or keep studying to extend the student visa. Her next goal is to apply for a Ph.D. in forensic accounting. "It's my interest and relates to my major." She always believes one is never too old to learn.

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