Though she was born in Beijing and moved in and out of China numerous times as she grew up, Selena (Jiying) Guo never had the opportunity to dig deeply into the question, “What is China really about?”
Now she will get that chance. Guo, a third-year media, information and technology student in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, was recently named a Schwarzman Scholar. The prestigious scholarship will allow her to pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, beginning in August 2021.
The academics have a strong focus on leadership, and the scholars will be taught by renowned international faculty and global thought leaders. Cultural immersion in China is a key component of the scholarship, with the aim of training future global leaders who can bridge the gap between China and other parts of the world.
“The members of this cohort will play crucial roles in increasing mutual understanding between China and the rest of the world, now and for years to come,” said Cordel Faulk, Director of Global Admissions, in a press release. “I am thrilled to be welcoming this incredible group at a moment when the world needs global leaders more than ever before,”
Guo, who is among 154 students chosen from a pool of 3,600 applicants, is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity. Her outstanding academic and personal achievements won her the scholarship, but her background and history will help her draw additional value from the experience.
Her moves in and out of China allowed her to observe the enormous change and development in the country over the last few decades, she said; changes that are often in the news now and have raised international awareness and discussion. Even some of her MIT classes have touched on the influence of China, said Guo — “kind of a phenomenon that would not have happened 30 years ago when my parents’ generation was growing up.”
The confluence of changing global dynamics and her own experiences combined to create a new sense of purpose for Guo.
“The more I learn about China from different perspectives, the more I think that there’s an urgent need for me to spend more time learning and actually living in this vast, diverse, complex country, where so many people outside of it, including myself, don’t completely understand but are quick to judge.”
She will be in good company in this challenge as she joins a diverse group of students from around the world whose academic, personal and extracurricular achievements set them apart. They come from all scholarly disciplines and include a bestselling author, an app designer recognized by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, an award-winning film producer, Australia’s youngest deputy mayor, and students named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30.
Guo is already a published author of the 2018 book Turning 15 in Africa. She is bilingual in English and Mandarin, and has lived in Canada, Beijing, the United States and Kenya. While in Nairobi she created Women in Technology Huawei, an initiative to provide Kenyan women the opportunity to enter the tech industry.
Now she will apply her undergraduate experience to studies in global affairs, she said, crediting Western and the information faculty for giving her the capacity to “twist” her brain in ways she’d never imagined. “FIMS, in particular, is such a treasure.”
With media, information and technology so interwoven with China’s rapid development, it is critical to understand their possible social benefits or pitfalls, she said.
While the scholarship is an honour and a thrill, it does come with some nerves. Asked about long-term goals, Guo is frank: “To be very honest, I have no idea. I used to set myself long-term goals all the time, but all of them were just based on what I knew about the world then, and both the world and my perception of it were always changing as we marched ahead.”
“This year [of COVID-19,] especially, has made me feel that the best goal is to adapt to changes and learn to ride the waves.”
For the moment she is looking forward to the chance to meet the other Schwarzman scholars and explore China with new friends.
“It’s probably going to feel a bit odd at first because my role as an international student is going to be reversed, and I’m eager to show and experience what living and learning in China is really like with all the amazing peers.”