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Keene State Welcomes International Student from China

Jiayang Shao
Jiayang Shao

First-year student Jiayang Shao didn’t go home during the Thanksgiving holiday and has no plans to go home during the semester break. It’s not that he doesn’t miss his family and friends, but rather a question of distance. Shao, who goes by the name Shawn, is from Hangzhou China, a large coastal city in the southeastern part of the country.

Unlike many international students who come to Keene State on a semester-long exchange program, Shao, a music performance major who also goes by Shawn, plans on being at the College for four years and completing his degree. Shao hopes to make the most of his time on campus, taking his piano playing a few scales higher while also sharing many of his Chinese customs with Keene State students.

While Shao had the advantage of acclimating to a new country while attending high school, he still received strong support when he arrived at Keene State – in and out of the classroom.

Shao said that Steve Spiegel, the Associate Director of Global Education Office was always there to answer his questions and help with problems while Dr. Matthew Odell, a lecturer in the music department, provided encouragement and support in the classroom. “Dr. Odell has been very patient with me, correcting the mistakes and bad habits that I’ve accumulated over time,” he said.

“Shawn has a whole set of different cultural experiences from students who grew up in America. This of course gives him an alternate perspective, which is really healthy for our music department,” said Odell. “Having international students like Shawn really helps open our eyes to different ways of doing and thinking about things.”

Shao attended elementary and middle school in China, learning English in the third grade and taking up piano at the age of eight. “I didn’t like it back then,” admits Shao about the constant practicing. “But as time went by, I started to enjoy it more.”

The only child in his family, Shao decided to attend the Winchendon School in Massachusetts before arriving at Keene State. His supportive parents felt that going to school in America would be a good experience for Shao and allow him to take advantage of a more liberal education. “They thought there was better access to information, which encourages critical thinking,” he said.

Shao didn’t have to look far to find the right college fit. Drawn to Keene State by its music department and impressive faculty, Shao has enjoyed his first semester on campus, accompanying his music courses with classes in environmental science and ancient medieval history. Shao, who is a fan of the Russian technique of piano playing, hopes to expand his academic experience by traveling abroad and attending a piano camp over the summer.

Although he’s been in America for five short years, Shao feels he has adapted well to the country’s customs and holidays - even partaking of turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. “My English tutor back in China told me the more you travel the more you can see the essential sameness of all human beings,” he said. “People that don’t travel sometimes develop stereotypes. But the more we communicate and travel, the more we can see that maybe there isn’t much difference between all of us and we can all live together.”