Five years ago this fall, Alessandra “Zan” Schmidt ’12 and Julia Nethero ’12 met for the first time in their Lathrop freshman dorm room. A “roommate match made in heaven,” Schmidt and Nethero became fast friends and lived together all four years at Vassar. After graduating, they both moved to Beijing. Schmidt worked in the 798 Art Zone and later in education consulting. Nethero studied Chinese language and researched women’s political empowerment and NGOs on a Fulbright Fellowship.
Both women, who had been actively involved in campus leadership and community building while at Vassar, longed for a way to connect Vassar alumnae/i, professors, and current students in Beijing.
In August, the two hosted the first-ever Vassar in China networking event. Seventeen alumnae/i and current students attended the Beijing-based gathering, as did Bob Rebelein, Vassar associate professor of economics, who was teaching summer courses at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics.
“Everyone’s initial surprise and excitement at seeing so many Vassar faces demonstrated how important it is to launch an active Vassar in China Club,” Schmidt says.
Though the group isn’t officially a club yet, participants took the opportunity to discuss their own experiences in the region, as well as goals for what might become an organized club.
The first goal is to create a strong Vassar community in Beijing, helping students and alumnae/i build personal relationships and adjust to life in China. Second, the group plans to serve as a networking organization and advising resource for questions related to working and studying in China. Organizers hope to create a setting for intellectually engaging events related to both Vassar and China, such as lectures from visiting professors and alumnae/i, film screenings, and professional workshops.
The third goal is to support the admissions office in its recruitment of Chinese students. “Vassar is increasingly turning its attention to Asia and is actively trying to build its presence here,” Nethero says, noting President Catharine Hill’s visit to Asia this past spring. Group members want to continue to spread awareness about Vassar—and liberal arts colleges in general—in China.
Schmidt says that many may not be aware that Vassar alumnae/i in China are involved in a variety of fields, from fashion and communications to business and politics. She points to examples such as Hung Huang ’84, a current Vassar trustee who built her career as editor and publisher of the high-end fashion magazine iLook and, as a host on Chinese television, is frequently referred to as “the Oprah of China”; Maria Rendon ’86, a career Foreign Service Officer and development counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; Xiaoxiao Li ’06, a manager of internal funds for Erdos Group, a Chinese private conglomerate with businesses in mining, industrials, and fashion retail; and Jon Kaiman ’09, who came to China after graduation to pursue a Fulbright Fellowship and now works for British newspaper the Guardian, where his coverage of the Snowden scandal made the homepage of the newspaper’s website.
The organizers say a number of recent graduates are arriving in China this fall as well and they hope to involve them in the events to come over the next few months. They’re keen to expand their efforts to support the Vassar community in China and to foster that “Vassar spirit halfway around the world.”
Photos courtesy of Julia Nethero and Zan Schmidt.