When Guanlin Wu decides to take a leap, he does it in a big way. The Beijing native decided to leave home and travel more than 7,000 miles to a place he had never visited, where he knew no one and had never spoken the language. That giant step led to a very successful three years, and he will graduate with honors and his tourism management degree from the University of South Carolina, a place which became his home.
The road to Columbia started when Wu scored well on a placement test which is a key step for Chinese students interested in studying abroad. He then began to explore options.
"When I searched, I was surprised by the beauty of the campus, the outstanding achievements in my major (tourism management) and the atmosphere here,” he says. "I thought 'Why not?' I couldn't always stay in Beijing, in my comfort zone. I think sometimes you really need to see something different. So here I am, I came here."
Wu thrived despite all the challenges of going abroad. This spring, he earned the Outstanding Senior in Tourism Management Award. The award goes to students who have demonstrated major achievement in the categories of service, leadership, academics and research, and Wu says it is his proudest achievement so far.
"It's the first time I have really been recognized by others. Before that, I just kept on working,” he says. "Normally I don't have compliments from others. When I was awarded, I was so proud of myself."
In addition to outstanding academic performance, Wu earned the award with service and leadership. He volunteered to help put on the annual Columbia International Festival. When COVID-19 hit, he helped spread information to the local international community in particular, as well as helping distribute personal protective equipment.
“I do anything I can to help others prevent COVID-19,” Wu says.
Wu’s determination to serve others has also shaped his future plans. He will move on to graduate school next to focus on business analytics. He then hopes to combine his tourism management degree with analytics and work as a consultant for tourism agencies.
"People need guidance and advice. They want data. I believe I can help a lot," he says. "I believe it will be not only a good job for me, but helpful for society."
As a new arrival at UofSC, Wu found helpers ready to ease the transition for him. The university’s International Student Services department connected him with other students from abroad and helped with the many details that come with a move to a new country. College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management International Programs Coordinator Lin Wang, a fellow Beijing native, also played a big role.
"He has helped me a lot. He's not just faculty. He's my very close friend,” Wu says. Wang was there to assist with academic tasks like registering for classes and life tasks like buying a car in a new country, as well as simply being a person with a common background and shared experiences.
As appreciative as he is of the help from fellow international students, Wu has also made it a priority to continue to move out of his comfort zone, and advises others to do the same.
“Some international students stick with their own people and never practice English, meet Americans or learn about America. It can be embarrassing not knowing English,” he says, but adds that he thinks the difficult steps are worth it.
“If you choose to study abroad, it's a challenge. Be ready to challenge yourself."