When Li Xi visits a new country, she’s not only interested in the culture, but also the physical geography of the area.
“Whenever my parents took me to travel, I was always interested in the topographical history of that specific area,” Xi said. “I figured out that I was the only one who was super interested in it.”
Now a second-year graduate student studying cartography and geographical information systems, Xi has been able to turn that affinity into a future career.
A native of the Jiangsu province of China, Xi began exploring this love during high school through her earth science courses and the Harpur College University Readiness Program (URP). URP is a collaboration between Binghamton University and Chinese high schools that gives students the opportunity to take online courses taught by University faculty.
In 2012, when Xi was in 11th grade, she, along with other students at her school, were introduced to URP during a visit to the University.
“It felt homey here because the students and the professors were all friendly to us, and I saw lots of animals — squirrels and deer — and I thought they were so lovely,” Xi said. “We also paid a visit to the Nature Preserve. I like geography and the environment, so I thought it might be the best spot for me to study this kind of subject.”
Over the past six years, Xi has spent her time learning both in and out of the classroom. She’s interested in American culture and often spends her breaks with her friends and their families. Last spring break, she went home with her friend Jan’Meshier Frye, who is now a senior majoring in linguistics from Mississippi. Xi had never been to the South, and although she had a hard time understanding the dialect, she enjoyed herself.
“[Her family] was very friendly and the food [in the South] is also different,” she said. “I think they put more flavors in their food.”
While Frye has helped Xi understand more about African American culture, Xi has taught Frye about Chinese culture.
“[Xi] changed my outlook, because where I am from, there are not many Asians,” Frye said.” So learning about her culture and mannerisms influenced my behavior. I sometimes even subconsciously bow to people. We have an interesting friendship, and I love her.”
Xi values these interactions and thinks they are a great way to learn.
“I think that cultural exchange between the students is important because a lot of domestic students don’t have a sense of how international students think and how different cultures work,” Xi said. “[Also], a lot of international students are shy and scared of making new friends. It is necessary to build an international network to be a global citizen.”
As a way to share her Chinese culture, Xi was a member of the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera while she was an undergraduate. The organization was formed by BU and the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts, sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing.
“[Joining] was great because it helped me to know people who can play Chinese instruments,” Xi said. “We became good friends.”
Xi plays the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument with a pear-shaped wooden body. She has been playing since she was in the third grade.
“As a kid, I was nervous and upset because when I practiced my pipa, my friends were hanging out with their friends,” Xi said. “Once I grew up, I figured that it would be a good skill to have. It’s helped me to relieve my stress and helped me to be a more disciplined student.”
It’s this discipline that has helped Xi get to where she is today. Last April, Xi was awarded the 2017 Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, a SUNY-wide distinction that recognizes students for their outstanding academic achievement, leadership and community service.
“I feel very honored and can’t believe they chose me,” she said. “Living in a strange country as a stranger is very exhausting, but this award boosts my confidence. And I feel like I have been encouraged to spend more time in educating myself.”
A self-described environmentalist, Xi would like to eventually receive her doctorate in geography and use research as a tool to fight climate change.
“I like exploring new ideas,” Xi said. “I think finding new ideas and writing articles to inform people about new issues is important.”
Her current research examines the rate of urban expansion in Southeast Asia and how the creation of impervious surfaces — land that water can’t penetrate through, like sidewalks — affects the environment.
Xi has visited areas throughout China, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Mexico and the United States. Though she enjoys exploring new cultures, she has no preference as to whether her professional life takes her around the globe, or keeps her in Binghamton.
“As long as my research contributes to any part of the world, I will be very happy,” Xi said.