By Laura Mortkowitz
Lily and Vera walk Rider’s campus like any other students. They head into Princeton twice a month, see a movie and shop for clothes and makeup. They are typical students.
Their dorm room has chocolates on the desk and a box with a purse in it. They like to buy Coach purses for presents. There is nothing particularly different about these two young women and their daily lives from others on campus.
Except Lily and Vera are students from China.
Lily’s Chinese name is Gong Jieqiong and Vera’s Chinese name is Zhang Xiaowei (in China, surnames come first). Originally, they are students from Sanda University in Shanghai, China, and now they are visiting the United States while they complete one and two-year study programs at Rider.
The room they live in holds all of their belongings in the U.S. The closet is packed more than the usual students’, and other items they have bought over the last months have accumulated on the floor when they ran out of space.
Their time is often spent studying and attending class. While the rest of the students go home for winter and summer breaks, Gong and Zhang, along with the rest of the Sanda students, take classes.
“They’re like mini-classes,” Zhang explained. “They’re like three weeks long and we take classes every day.”
During these breaks for the rest of students, the Rider campus is relatively quiet and empty, and there isn’t much available to the Sanda students in the way of entertainment. So they have to go off campus to spend their time that is not being used to study.
Since the two young women live in Shanghai when they’re home, Princeton is a fairly large difference for them. They compare Shanghai to New York City.
“It’s a big city,” Gong said. “It’s very large and busy.”
Living at Rider does not allow them to have that same experience of being right in the heart of things and well within walking distance of any shops they might need.
The suburban setting is almost difficult for the girls and the other Sanda students as they try to adjust. Their only ways of getting to Princeton to shop is to either rely on the buses or on any friends with cars on campus.
Zhang says she also hangs out with many American students, who can drive her into town so she doesn’t have to rely on the buses. It’s less of a hassle if she can get a friend, but it still isn’t convenient.
“The town is so small and quiet compared to Shanghai,” Zhang said.
However, they spend their time in town the same way countless other young women do. Princeton has a number of shops that they enjoy going to, such as the Coach store. The purses are great gifts for these students to buy for friends and family back home, since they are considerably lower in price here than they are over in China.
“We go shopping, a lot,” they said together.
Clothes, shoes, makeup, hand products. Anything and everything is shopped for in Princeton. The price of these items is lower here because of the currency exchange. Plus, those items that are large brand names are cheaper.
“At home we don’t have those types of products,” said Zhang. “China imports things so the price is higher.”
“Especially makeup,” Gong added.
Zhang has a certain weakness for the Lindt chocolate store. The outside doesn’t look like a typical shop and inside, the store is wall-to-wall bags and boxes and truffles. Right now on Zhang’s desk is a bag of extra dark truffles.
“I buy a lot of chocolate,” Zhang admitted with a laugh. At home, Lindt chocolate isn’t as readily available to her as it is when she’s here at Rider.
Neither Gong nor Zhang has seen any plays at the well-known McCarter Theater, though Zhang went there a year ago to see a Chinese singing group.
Both girls are returning to China on Dec. 25. Although Gong has only been here for one year, Zhang has already been here for two. Gong is studying for her Master of Business Association (MBA). Zhang completed three years of school at Sanda and then came to Rider to complete her fourth and then her fifth year as part of her Master of Accounting (MAcc) program.
For now, both girls will continue to go into town in order to get anything they might need in the room or any presents they send home.
“It’s nice here, but too quiet,” Zhang said. “We’re used to the city.”