When an ancient Chinese philosopher said “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” he could have been talking about Ariel Liu, a junior applied mathematics major at UW-Eau Claire.
After all, Liu, a native of Qingdao, China, came to UW-Eau Claire in 2018 as an international student, a first step in a journey that already has taken her thousands of miles and to universities on two continents.
Her experience as an international student at UW-Eau Claire has been so positive that it piqued her curiosity about people and cultures in other parts of the world, so Liu did what many Blugolds do — she spent a semester studying abroad.
“I decided to study abroad to learn more about the world, such as the culture differences and the academic styles, and to have a broader perception,” Liu says of spending her fall semester studying in Greece. “Ancient Greece had a lot of mathematical achievements, so I was interested in learning more about the history of that, the Greek letters in mathematics or just the Greek language, and the mythology of Greece.”
Liu credits UW-Eau Claire faculty, especially Dr. Colleen Duffy, an associate professor of mathematics, with encouraging her to spend one of her semesters as a Blugold studying in another part of the world.
“She loves to travel and to go abroad to do research and to study,” Liu says of Duffy. “Her class is super interesting for me and structured, even if in my first semester I could not get her jokes.
“Although she did not direct me to Greece, she was a major factor in pushing me to study abroad. She did a lot of presentations about studying abroad, so, as time went by, I started to think about it.”
While it was Duffy and other UW-Eau Claire faculty and staff who inspired her to study abroad, it was the Wisconsin winters that put Greece at the top of her list of potential study abroad sites.
“When I applied, it was the coldest time in Wisconsin’s winter,” Liu says. “That made me really want to go to a place described as ‘a country which has more than 300 days sunny in a year.’”
At the American College Thessaloniki in Greece, Liu did find sunny skies, but, even more importantly, she also found new friends, a love for a new language, an appreciation for new foods and cultural norms, and potential new career paths.
“The computer science class in Greece enlightened me a lot about that field,” Liu says. “The professor was knowledgeable and thoughtful about both the medical and computer science field, especially for the hardware in computer science. I attended the Maker’s Club, which is about the hardware of the computer, robotics, electricity or other related things.
“I thought it was super interesting. Before I participated in it, I was only interested in the software. But the activities that we did there were fun and the fields in our discussions were so broad. So, now I’m thinking about learning more about computer science knowledge and languages in the future.”
Liu came to UW-Eau Claire after learning about all that the university has to offer from Melissa Paulson, a UW-Eau Claire international admissions counselor.
She quickly realized that financially, UW-Eau Claire was the best option for her.
However, it was the campus and community that really won her over when she was considering her options, Liu says.
“It’s a calm and safe city, it has nice people, a good environment, and a reasonable price for everything,” Liu says of Eau Claire. “I also love snow and I love dairy.”
Her experiences on campus and in the Eau Claire community have exceeded her expectations, Liu says.
“My favorite thing about UWEC is our campus and the Eau Claire community are so connected,” Liu says. “I can feel the love around here. I love all my professors and classes that I’m taking, or that I took before. I love all the classmates that I’ve met. And I love hanging out on campus because everyone around me is so nice and friendly.”
Like most students, she fills her days attending classes, studying, playing sports or hanging out with friends, and working part-time jobs on campus.
From her first days on UW-Eau Claire’s campus, Blugolds have reached out to her in ways that made her feel connected and valued, Liu says.
For example, Ami Christensen, a lecturer who taught Liu’s writing class, is among those Liu credits with making her time as a Blugold so meaningful.
“She loves diversity and culture, and she is knowledgeable about liberal arts, especially sociology and psychology,” Liu says of Christensen. “During class, I read a lot and wrote a lot. Even though the process was a little hard, the result was great. I also learned a lot from my classmates and the group study when I just came here.
“I love the environment in her class, which is respectful. I’m always afraid of raising my hands and answering questions in class, but she is respectful and encouraged me a lot to express my opinion during the class. Because of that, my confidence built up, and now, I’m not that afraid anymore.”
Liu says people from every corner of the university have gone out of their way to make her feel welcome on campus, including everyone from staff in the Center for International Education to the food service employees.
By sharing their support and advice, they all have helped her succeed in the classroom as well as in her daily life, Liu says.
“There is one staff who is working in the marketplace in Davies. Her name is Becky,” Liu says. “She warmed me up and comforted me when I just came here and felt helpless during Orientation week. Also, she taught me how to recognize U.S. dollar coins. Even though my English is not good, she is still so nice and patient to listen to what I am trying to say.”
The people and experiences she’s found on UW-Eau Claire’s campus is making her time as a Blugold extraordinary, Liu says.
“From the start to now, I took lots of classes and met lots students who are smart, friendly and embrace different cultures than theirs,” Liu says. “I always feel I’m so lucky that I can meet these fantastic people and have them in my life at UWEC.”
When she graduates from UW-Eau Claire in May 2021, Liu plans to go to graduate school.
She’s still deciding on what career path she would like to pursue after graduate school.
“Although mathematics is a very big part of my life, I would like to learn other fields that are connected to mathematics, such as cryptography or cybersecurity,” Liu says. “It is a new direction for me. I haven’t found my passion for my life yet, but I plan to do something I really love to do and would like to do during my whole life.”
Thanks to UW-Eau Claire and the American College of Thessaloniki, Liu is confident she is gaining the kinds of knowledge and experiences that will make her successful wherever her future path takes her.
“Everything I learned from UWEC and ACT will give me a stable fundamental knowledge for my future,” Liu says. “But the most important thing I learned here is to know how to learn, how to be myself, know myself, how to do my best, how to make a decision wisely, how to deal with difficulties, and how to find my interests or passion.”
Top photo caption: Ariel Liu, an international student from China, joined other Blugolds last fall by studying abroad, furthering her understanding of other cultures.