Yukun (Justin) Tong is a fourth-year international undergraduate student majoring in international relations and diplomacy with a minor in economics and is a student leader in the Office of International Affairs' Exchange Partner Program.
Did you overcome any hurdles to begin your studies at Ohio State that you would like to share?
As an international student from China, English is not my first language, so stepping out of my language comfort zone was the very first hurdle I had to overcome. Most of the international students have gone through systematic English language training prior to their arrival at Ohio State. I was confident about my conversational and academic English ability, nonetheless, it still took a lot of courage for me to speak confidently in class. I still vividly remember my nervousness speaking for the first few times in class and giving my first presentation in front of a classroom full of domestic students.
The second major hurdle was to make new friends and to be the first one to say “hi”. I was fortunate that I came to Ohio State with the firm mentality to make new friends with both domestic and international students. But I still experienced a short period of nervousness being the first one reaching out to many new students. It was not easy to be the first one to give a smile and say "hi" to a stranger, but because of that, I have gained many friendships that formed some of my best memories here at Ohio State which I will forever cherish.
What have been your favorite moments or memories from your time at Ohio State?
I was not very enthusiastic saying “O-H-I-O”. Besides friendship, I cherish the minutiae of everyday life here at Ohio State. I realize my home is half an earth away, so it is not helpful to live in the old pattern of life that reminds me of home all the time. I started a new pattern of life with new routines. I participate and engage with all sorts of campus activities and I am happy to call Ohio State my “home away from home” in the past two and a half years.
What piece of advice would you give a new incoming student?
For the new incoming international students, be brave, be curious and be eager to discover. It is absolutely fine if you don’t speak perfect English and have an accent. Never let that discourage you from being involved on campus and making new friends.
For incoming international students, also, never assume that domestic students do not want to be friends with you simply because of your nationality, English ability or accent. College students all understand there will be a much larger presence of international students in college as well as different cultures compared to high school, especially for a huge public college like Ohio State. Many of the domestic students are just as eager and curious as you to be friends with someone from a different country and cultural background.
For all incoming students, Ohio State provides students with fantastic resources to help you be successful both academically and professionally. But resources will not come to you if you do nothing. Make sure to spend some time discovering all sorts of resources and utilizing them as you wish, and don’t wait until your senior year to start.
Why did you choose to be an Exchange Partner and what has your experience been like?
As an international student, I have struggled when I first started college and I understand other international students have the same struggles. I realize how valuable it can be for incoming international students or exchange students to have someone help them understand how things work at Ohio State and walk them through their transition period in a foreign country. It is not our responsibility to help exchange students with everything they need, but we are committed to bringing them a smoother transition when they first come to Ohio State. Moreover, I am proud of being part of the Buckeye community, I also want to promote my exchange partner’s sense of belonging on campus as part of the Buckeye community as well.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my exchange partner had to postpone his exchange semester to Spring 2021. However, given the current trend of COVID-19 in the United States, it is unclear whether he will make it to Ohio State in Spring 2021. But we remained in close contact with each other via social media and email.
What does it mean to be globally engaged to you and in what ways have you sought to it?
This increasingly interconnected world inevitably brings more complexities. It is becoming more important for college students to navigate the complexities of working with multidisciplinary teams and engaging with communities other than their own. It is important for both the college and students to collectively foster committed, meaningful bilateral or multilateral interactions with the world as a whole, without the outdated unilateral approach. Through my engagements with the Office of International Affairs, I am confident that I have made a substantial contribution to advancing cultural diversity, increasing understanding between different cultures and internationalizing the Ohio State Campus.
How did you choose your major/minors? And how do you like your studies so far? What would you hope to do after you complete your major?
My study of International Relations and Diplomacy at Ohio State has been fruitful so far.
I have gained a much deeper understanding of international relations, political theories, the current trends in world politics as well as the underlying obstacles and challenges. Both Departments of International Studies and Political Science have excellent and knowledgeable professors and faculties that can better prepare students for both future academic studies and professional work.
I have strong interests in U.S.-China relations, East Asian affairs and U.S. foreign policies—that is why I chose International Relations and Diplomacy as my major. I am also committed to enhancing future U.S.-China relations because it is vital to geopolitical security and international stability. Moreover, I am deeply concerned about the growing tensions and misunderstandings between the two nations.
I intend to pursue graduate studies after graduating from Ohio State. It is too early to say definitively what I want to do in the future, but I am confident that I will be on the trajectory of working in the best interests of U.S.-China relations in my future career, whether in a governmental or non-governmental way.
How do you balance your academic and extracurricular life?
Having a fixed routine is key. List everything you are going to do as the first thing to do in the morning and think about how to divide your time for the rest of the day during breakfast. Don't over-stress yourself by putting too many things on your schedule, but certainly don't let online classes and the COVID-19 pandemic become your excuses for being lazy and disorganized.
What is a fun fact about you?
I am a huge fan of traveling, through my journeys around the world, I have acquired a deeper understanding of culture and identity as well as gaining a multi-cultural perspective. My multi- cultural experience teaches me that my identities should transcend the boundaries of nationalism and my commitments should be pinned to a larger vision of the world community. Besides traveling, I love water diving, bike riding and petting my cat. I am also an aviation geek. I love airplanes and plan to get certified as a private pilot.
What is your favorite aspect of being a Buckeye?
I am grateful for Ohio State's effort to fostering a strong sense of unity among the student community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an unprecedented time with all kinds of unanticipated incidences, but Ohio State and the Office of International Affairs have done a tremendous job in supporting students, especially international students, through this difficult time. I am also thankful for Ohio State's commitment to creating a community where racism, hatred, discrimination and harassment will never be tolerated, especially during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unfortunate discrimination and even racism toward the Chinese and Asian American communities. For that, I can say I am proud to be a Buckeye.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you? What have you found to help you cope?
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on me both academically and professionally. Like everyone else, I had to get used to online classes and the great frustration of not being able to have in-person classes and be involved in on-campus activities. My summer 2020 internship in Washington D.C. and my private pilot training were both canceled due to the pandemic. I could not go back to China and I have not seen my parents and loved ones since January 5, 2020.
Being positive and doing the things I love helped me cope with COVID-19 frustration and even occasional depression. It is not easy to stay positive during such a difficult time, but we should always do the things that cheer us up. For me, I enjoyed bike riding, creating new recipes and cooking my own meals. I started to learn a new language during the past summer, and I finished a few Netflix series that I could not find time to watch before. I took this pandemic as a chance to slow down myself a little bit, take a long break and figure out what I truly want for my career and my life, and what values should I insist on.