Coming to America: Lessons I Learned

“What is your plan after graduation?” People often asked while I was studying at Syracuse University.

“Working in the editorial section with a New York-based company, understand the industry, and polish myself. Eventually I’d like to go back to China to become an arts journalist.” This has always been my answer.

I’m glad I had such resolution, because resolution is what it takes to do things well.

So where am I now? 

Three months after getting my master’s degree, now far off am I from my dream of becoming an arts journalist?

It’s interesting that the more I think about those questions—the future questions as I’d like to call, the deeper I go into my past and my inner self.

And this blog is a reflection on that. 

I was born in Shanghai in 1990. According to my mom, I was a storyteller since an early age.

“Your kindergarten teacher told me you always attracted people. When you were little, kids would go around you, sitting in a circle, listening attentively to your stories,” said mom. Seriously? Apparently I couldn’t recall any of these scenes.

“Wasn’t I always the most quiet kid in class? ” I asked and doubted what mom just said. I know I’m a passionate storyteller, which is why I’m after a journalism career, but I also sense that being an extrovert and talkative is never part of me. Or maybe I was wrong. 

In 2008, I went to Fudan University to study journalism. It was there where I came to understand the role media plays in a society, and the obstacles facing Chinese reporters and ambitious social reformers. I got precious opportunities to interview a lot of artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers and theatre performers. They made me think. I started to search in art not the artistic pleasures, but shared experiences that render and reflect the society we live in. Art definitely has the power to connect the world and to inspire people. 

That’s what drove me to study arts journalism at Syracuse University, where I met wonderful mentors and made friends with so many brilliant minded people. I felt going to Syracuse University is one of the smartest decisions I have ever made. I couldn’t be more grateful for those great opportunities I was offered: work-shopping with top-notch art critics from The New York Times, sitting in exclusive panel discussions with senior editors and writers from Vanity Fair, traveling to Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival, becoming an on-site reporter covering the Spoleto Festival USA, and getting to use Google Glass and testing out Oculus Rift when they first came out (alright I just leaked that I’m a tech fanatic as well). Such rare occasions go on and on.

But the most important lesson I’ve learned is from my program director Johanna Keller. Being tenacious, staying focused and being brave to try new things is what the Pulitzer judge has taught me. I remembered stressing out in her office, bursting into tears I now have no clue where they came from, and what she told me was, relax and get rid of the anxiety you create for yourself. She said that a lot of the anxieties come not from outside pressure but from inside overthinking. We demand so high on ourselves to the extent that we devise and pre-arrange all the difficulties that may lie ahead, which, will actually never be encountered.

That lesson has benefitted me from then on—never waste time worrying about the unknown, but seize opportunities at present.

Waving goodbye to college, I now work in an editorial team with a New York-based online media company targeting international students. In addition to that, I’m writing an arts and pop culture column for Grazia magazine’s Chinese edition. I’m also launching a Chinese website dedicated to providing original content on American pop culture—tv shows, films, music, books, etc.

I know there’re probably a million things I need to do in order to reach my dream. I’m working on it. But right now I just feel lucky to have parents that are so supportive, friends and mentors that are so encouraging, and New York City for being such challenging and exciting.

Everything is getting closer to where they should be.

Anita Xu

Anita Xu

You can contact Anita Xu at anitaxu@