Meet the World at International Student Association

Most of my social life during my six years at University of Arizona was at the International Student Association (ISA). I made friends, made frenemies, and had fun through events and gatherings organized by ISA.

ISA Trail Dust Town visit, Apr 04, 2013

The Very First Event

Every incoming international student is required to attend the International Student Orientation, organized by International Student Programs and Services (ISPS). In the 2011 orientation, ISPS recruited a group of student workers, called Peer Integrators (PIs), to assist with the orientation, and to plan and participate in orientation social events for new international students. One of the social events was a campus race on Aug 14, 2011, organized by Morris Zhou, a PI from China. I participated in this event because its name sounds like my favorite TV show The Amazing Race.

The goal of this event was to make students familiarize with the UA campus. Each team of two or three students were given a sheet of hints, each referring to a location on campus. Within one hour, the team must visit as many locations as they can, and take pictures of the team members in front of those locations. The team that gets the largest number of correct answers would be awarded the winner.

I am a Moviegoer

I watched over 150 movies during my six years at University of Arizona.

What did I Watch

My favorite genre is action and adventure (paid link). I love seeing superheroes save the world, because they bring hope to our world. My favorite character is Spider-Man (paid link), because he only does good things and is full of positive energy.

I also frequently watch science fiction (paid link) films. I particularly enjoy films set in the outer space, such as The Space Between Us (paid link) and Passengers (paid link), because the weightless shots are breathtaking.

My third favorite genre is drama (paid link). Some of my favorites are National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (paid link), Nebraska (paid link), and Instructions Not Included (paid link). I can have a good laugh out of them.

How I Started Geocaching

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt game. Participants, or "geocachers", use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. I learned about geocaching by accident in Jul 2013, and I was immediately hooked to this game. Since then, Geocaching had a strong influence in my weekend activities, gadget purchases, and travel choices.

selfie with GC5WHZV container

It All Started from Jenny

Grocery stores offer discounts with a loyalty card, but I forgot to bring mine on Jul 12, 2013. I complained on Facebook, and my friends told me that I could give my phone number to the cashier, and they would be able to apply the discounts. Daniel's answer mentioned that I could enter "area code + 867-5309" as the phone number, and there is usually a loyalty card associated with this phone number. I did not understand what's special about this phone number, so I started online searching.

Facebook post about forgotten grocery loyalty card

Hailing Taxis

When I was little, taxis were my favorite form of transportation. I could have my own seat in the taxi, and the taxi would go directly to the destination. I would not need to walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus, get squeezed in the bus, and walk to the destination after getting off the bus. In early 1990s, taxi fare of a 5KM trip was about 30 times the bus fare. However, I didn't understand the value of money at that time, so I always wanted to travel by taxi.

I started attending a boarding school since the seventh grade. Mom would give me ¥65 every week, and I was allowed to spend the money however I wish, but this money was all I have for meals, transportation, and anything else except books and school supplies. While I could spend ¥5 to take a taxi from the bus terminal to the school, I usually chose to walk 20 minutes and save the money for snacks. I got used to bus rides and long walks, and forgot about taxis, when money became a constraint. In fact, I got so used to public transportation that, even if I was on a business trip when I later worked for a company, I would prefer to take a bus instead of a taxi, and I sometimes had to explain to finance why I could not produce a receipt for a bus ride.

When I came to Tucson in 2011, having limited cash and being accustomed to public transportation, my primary form of transportation is of course the city bus. However, the operating hours of city buses are limited. When I stayed in Grant Inn during my first days, the last route 20 bus from UA campus back to Grant Inn was departing at 18:20. If I wanted to stay at school later than that, I would have to find my alternate transportation.

Clint's Taxi

When I was dropped off at Grant Inn, the volunteer gave each student a business card of "Clint's Taxi", and told us to call Clint when we need to go to school. Since buses are cheaper, I took the city bus most of the time. On Aug 14, 2011, I attended a "Campus Race" scavenger hunt activity, organized by an organization called Meet The World, which later became International Student Association (ISA). The activity lasted until 20:00, at which point there were no more buses available. This was when I called Clint for the first time.

Behind the Wheel

Sun Tran bus system was my primary form of transportation during my six years at University of Arizona, but it wasn't my only transportation. Sun Tran services city of Tucson, city of South Tucson, and select areas out of city limits. When I needed to go beyond the service boundary, or to haul cargo, it makes sense to get my own set of wheels.

I decided not to buy a car during graduate school early on. When I attended my first "grad tea", a social event among computer science grad students, I asked an American student the cost of owning a car, and the answer was $200 per month including "everything". A simple calculation indicated that owning a car would not be a good financial decision for me. Owning a car would allow me to rent an apartment far from the campus, but it is unlikely to find an apartment that is cheaper than $439/mo NorthPointe.

Zipcar Nissan Altima Brenton

Arizona Driver's License

Fast forward to spring 2014, when my life at NorthPointe went downhill due to a noisy roommate. I signed a lease at my new apartment, and moving was put on the agenda. I moved from Grant Inn to NorthPointe on a taxi, at which time all I had was two suitcases and two bags. Three years later, I had accumulated many more things than that, and the taxi driver would be charging by minute while I'm loading my stuff into his trunk. Thus, I need a driver's license!

My Story with Sun Tran

Tucson is a "small" town. Compared to my hometown Shanghai, Tucson is 10 times smaller in land area, and has 3% of Shanghai's metro population. Nevertheless, Tucson is still the second largest city in Arizona. You can't reasonably walk to everything, so transportation is a necessity.

America is a country on wheels, but Tucson has a nice public transportation system, Sun Tran. During my six years at University of Arizona, I never bought a car, but used Sun Tran bus system extensively.

Sun Tran bus 3000

City Bus in Shanghai vs Tucson

American city bus system do not have a good reputation: vehicles are old, schedules are infrequent, and operating hours are limited. Nevertheless, the first transportation service I experienced in Tucson is the city bus, when I visited UA campus for the first time.

Floating in the Pool

As it's said, if a foreign student does not have a girlfriend, he would start physical exercises sooner or later, because he has nothing else to do.

RT @Dtiberium 顺便有个定律:来了美国的中国留学生如果没有女朋友,迟早会开始健身。道理很简单:他们实在没什么别的事情可干。

This is very true of me.

Before I Came to Arizona

When I was an undergraduate student in Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), although the university has a gym, it only has a few treadmills and ellipticals, and students must pay an entrance fee upon each usage. I never went to this gym. There was no swimming pool at SJTU, and a security guard once warned me not to swim in the lake, when I stepped one foot into the lake trying to feel the water temperature.

Roommates or Not?

Food, water, shelter, and warmth are the basic needs of human beings. Food is available in any restaurant and grocery store. Tap water is safe to drink, as I asked at the orientation. Warmth is not an urgent problem when I arrive because I have enough clothes in my luggage. The biggest problem is: housing!

There are two main housing options for University of Arizona students: on campus housing and off campus housing. If I live on campus, I can walk to class and enjoy all the good vibes, but the room is small and costs a ton of money. Thus, during my six years in Arizona, I lived exclusively in off-campus housing. This article describes the two apartments I lived in, shares my experiences of living with or without roommates, and includes reviews of NorthPointe Student Apartments and University Arms Apartments from a real tenant.

How I Evaluate Off-Campus Housing

When I started surveying off-campus housing options, I set a few requirements:

  • I must have my own bedroom. When I was an undergraduate in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, I shared an on-campus dormitory with three other boys. We lived in the same bedroom, went to class together, and were good friends. The dorm manager enforced strict rules such as "lights off" time. However, American off-campus housing has no such strict rules, so sharing a bedroom is going to cause roommate conflicts in the long term, and I'm not really into cohabiting.
  • I want to have my own bathroom. I saw too many TV episodes about how American kids make a mess in the bathroom, or spend too long time in the shower in the morning when I would need to go to class.
  • I prefer to have individual leases. Some property owners would rent out a big house to multiple students on one lease. If any tenant quits, the remaining tenants still must pay the full rent. I would not want to get into such trouble.
  • I can get to school without a car. Owning a car is too much hassle for me.

My First Days in Tucson

Six years ago, on Apr 12, 2011, I was admitted as a PhD student in the Computer Science PhD program at The University of Arizona. After a round of paperwork and an interview for the US visa, I flew from Shanghai, China to Tucson, Arizona on Aug 04, 2011. This was when it all began.

The Flight and Arrival

My uncle bought me an one-way flight ticket. I was booked on United flight 588 departing PVG at 20:10, transferring to United flight 6458 arriving TUS at 21:10. The time difference between Shanghai and Tucson is 15 hours, so this seemingly 1-hour flight route is actually 16 hours.

My dad drove me to the airport, with mom and grandpa also in the car. After saying goodbye to my family, an officer stamped my passport indicating that I had left China territory. I had two checked bags full of clothing and cookware, a duffle bag with more clothes, and a briefcase containing an old laptop. I also had thirteen $100 bills, a few $20 and $10 bills, and several quarter-dollar coins; this was all the cash I had.

say goodbye to grandpa


六年前,在2011年8月4日,我从上海飞赴美国亚利桑那州图森市(Tucson, Arizona),到亚利桑那大学(The University of Arizona)攻读博士学位。 六年后,我已经通过了论文答辩,正在准备毕业。


  • 我作为第一作者在各大学术会议上发表了三篇论文,并且出席了其中一次学术会议演讲了我的论文。
  • 我上了88学分的课程,保持了全A的优异成绩。
  • 我获得了三次奖学金,其中包括科学学院只授予最优秀的学生的Galileo Circle Scholar称号。
  • 我参加了国际学生协会(International Student Association)的社团活动,遇见了一批极棒的朋友,并曾担任该社团的干事。
  • 我开始了定期体育锻炼,包括游泳与负重训练。
  • 作为一项兴趣爱好,我开始了地谜藏宝。
  • 我观看了150余部电影。
  • 我享受了徒步登山、野营、皮划艇等户外运动的乐趣。
  • 我骑自行车或搭乘公共汽车走遍了图森每一个角落,参与了本地的各种节日庆典,并尝试了许多本地的餐馆。
  • 我前往加利福尼亚州、科罗拉多州、哥伦比亚特区、夏威夷州、马萨诸塞州、内华达州、纽约州、宾夕法尼亚州、田纳西州、得克萨斯州、犹他州、华盛顿州旅行。
  • 我考出了亚利桑那州驾驶执照,在波士顿、凤凰城、圣地亚哥、旧金山湾区、西雅图、图森和尤马开过租来的汽车。
  • 作为亚利桑那大学的留学生, 作为图森市的居民, 我感到很自豪。

English version