When Carol Park ’23 visited Yale on her high school pilgrimage to Northeastern colleges, she snapped a picture of herself in front of Berkeley’s North Courtyard. Park thought about Yale’s floors of books and Harkness Tower on her flight back to Nanjing, her hometown in China. Little did she know Berkeley would one day become her future home — at least, for the next semester; she is a transfer student from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. “It felt like destiny,” Park remembered. But Park is slowly learning that Yale isn’t always the North Courtyard’s yellowing oak trees and Gothic windows.
“Can I say something bad?” Park paused, awaiting my assurance to go ahead. I nodded and raised my phone speaker closer to her voice, scooting closer to Park on Koffee’s corner couch. “The dining hall is a little bit disappointing for me,” Park griped.
I giggled — our newfound friendship filling the coffee fume-laden air. Then, I asked her to tell me how she really feels.
“I can tell the truth, right?” Park continued. I was silent.
“The chicken breast. Oh my god. They cook it in all kinds of different ways, but they all taste the same. It’s terrifying.”
In the other corner of the world, Park goes by Piao Yadi, her Chinese name. Park is a cultural tapestry. Raised by Korean and Chinese parents a three or so hour drive from Shanghai in Nanjing, China, Park learned English in grade school and, back in Japan, studies sociology on the English degree track at Waseda.
But completing her college degree in just one place wasn’t enough for Park. When she heard about Waseda’s study abroad opportunity, Park didn’t think twice and prayed she’d return to Berkeley’s North Courtyard. And this fall, she found herself knee-deep in Yale’s Economics department in her hardest class: Econ 424, “Central Banking,” alongside School of Management students.
“I think the culture here is really different from Japan,” Park remarked. “More people communicate to strangers — like you can really say hi to anyone you meet on campus here: whether you met them in a class or the library.”
Four flights above the North Courtyard, Park lives with a handful of exchange students from Hong Kong University who she grabs lunch within Berkeley and treks alongside to “Central Banking.”
“We all share similar cultural backgrounds, and our hometowns are all quite close to each other,” Park said. “When we first came here, nobody fit us beyond ourselves, so I think that situation brought us together.”
The I entryway isn’t the only thing that has brought them together. Despite not having any prior experience, her suite joined the figure skating club together.
“The most important lesson I’ve learned from training is that you need to get rid of the wall,” Park said.
I asked her if she can spin yet — to which she immediately quipped, “of course not.”
But Park isn’t there for that. Well, maybe learning how to twirl would be nice, she said. But “getting to know Yalies beyond my classrooms,” Park remarked, is what makes long walks to the Whale worth it.
Park is still learning — learning how to spin to her own rhythm; learning how to find time for budding friendships in between classes and dining hall chicken dinners. We’re all still learning. “I’m not sure how to allocate my time to all these things,” Park said, nearly frustrated with herself. I chimed in that I’m still learning, too.
In Park’s next, and final, semester at Yale, she hopes to check some of the Yale musts off her bucket list — watch a famous East Rock sunrise and meet the storied Handsome Dan — but also has some personal goals: to take a history course and to show off her professional dancing training alongside one of Yale’s dance clubs.
When reflecting on where her first Yale fall is nestled between her disparate identities, Park didn’t hesitate to find greater meaning.
“It’s given me the opportunity to take an insight into all these cultures and to get involved in a new society,” she reflected. “I think I’ll stay abroad for several years [after school] then go back to explore my own cultures all over again…. It’s kinda rare for a person my age to come from a background of both Chinese and Korean family members and then go to another Asian country for university and also go to America,” Park said.
“When you get into another society, you get to know a lot of different kinds of people,” Park said. “Sometimes they shock you, but sometimes they surprise you.”