International Student Finds a Home at Saint Mary's

“This year I’m going to graduate and I’m going to find a full-time job. I’m looking forward to the future,” said Yijing Ding, Professional MBA Program ’14, before class one afternoon in early autumn. It’s not an unusual sentiment, especially for students who are heading into their final quarters before graduation. There is an eagerness about them, a drive to move beyond the classroom and into the larger world to test their skills and apply what they’ve learned. Though her journey at Saint Mary’s will end at the same place as her colleagues and cohort members—on stage with a diploma in hand and a smile on her face—the path that Ding took to get there was very different. 

One year ago Ding was in Shanghai, her hometown, studying linguistics at as graduate student and working as a research assistant.

“I didn’t enjoy it much,” she said of her time in the linguistics program. “I’m much more business minded and I knew that I wanted to go further in studying business. It was hard to change my major in China, though. I felt very limited, so I asked a relative who lives in the Bay Area to recommend some business schools to me.”

On that list was Saint Mary’s. It was already June when Ding first made contact with the School of Economics and Business Administration. The first classes of the fall were only a few months away in October, and the bureaucratic challenges international students face when coming to the U.S. can be a bit daunting.

Yijing“Saint Mary’s was one of the few schools that was actively working with me,” said Ding. “[Then associate director of recruitment] Tammy Soulsby was in touch right away. She was really enthusiastic. She would email me back quickly, even on weekends, and let me know that Saint Mary’s was doing everything they could to expedite the process.”

 “On our side, we saw that she would add a global perspective to the classroom,” said Soulsby of Ding. “Plus, she was easy to work with and came from one of the top universities in China. She had an impressive academic background and great communication skills.”

Ding’s visa and other official documents were secured by the College, and after a flurry of paperwork and a 6,000-mile move across the Pacific, she sat down in her first class in October.

“That first quarter I was worried and a little afraid to speak. I was intimidated,” said Ding. “Those first three months were really hard. I doubted myself. I didn’t know if I had made a good decision and I was worried what would happen if I wasn’t able to find a job after graduating. I often wondered Am I going to have to go back to China?

“I was putting a lot of pressure on myself,” she admits. “I needed time to adjust and become part of the community. I realized I needed to be active and express myself.”

She credits visits to the Career Center and meetings with her mentor Yung-Jae Lee for coaxing her out of her shell. “Professor Lee helped me a lot,” said Ding. “He referred me to other faculty and other people to network with. I learned how important it was to take advantage of the opportunities I had.”

Yijing on campusSince that time she has been able to cultivate relationships with her cohort to get an authentic American experience.

“I’ve become friends with my classmates, but I’ve also made friends with Chinese students who go to other schools. All of their friends are also Chinese. They study with other Chinese students, they eat and socialize with other Chinese students. They have a close community, but they don’t actually interact with many Americans. Things are really different at Saint Mary’s. This is a place that will allow international students to make connections and push them outside of their comfort zone.”

Ding is thriving now, and not just socially either. Since arriving on campus a year ago, she has held several internships, both at the school and off-campus. Currently, Ding is a communications intern with a health care organization that she was introduced to by a cohort member. She loves the work and appreciates the practical industry knowledge she is gaining from it. A dream job would be working for a multinational company that does business in China so she could use the skills she learned at Saint Mary’s to assist with international issues.

Though she is the first to admit the past year was challenging, Ding has no regrets about her decision.

“Every international student may experience some self-doubt about their choice at the beginning, but if you conquer that feeling you will succeed,” said Ding. “Nothing will defeat you after that because you’ll have the confidence to overcome it.”