Milcah Lu, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Public Diplomacy

Wings of a Dream

Lesson Six in Snow’s Job in China

October 29, 2007
By Nancy Snow

Nancy Snow, associate professor of communications, is a visiting senior scholar and professor in Beijing, China, through November. She is teaching a graduate course in public diplomacy at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication, as well as working on joint research projects with Chinese faculty. While overseas, she will be sharing her experiences.

Lesson Six: When in China, become a mentor.

My students’ determination and true grit inspires me to want to help them fulfill their dreams. I’ve had an opportunity over the last six weeks to get to know such wonderful students at one of the best universities in China. Imagine teaching at a university that is the dream institution for millions of young Chinese. I’ll introduce one of those whose childhood dreams became a reality, a dream fulfilled through some adversity.

My graduate teaching assistant for public diplomacy is Milcah Lu. She was born in Hunan Province, in the southern part of China, in a small village of 2,000 known as Baiping, which means land of white. Baiping is part of a famous region known as the “county of generals,” since so many military leaders have originated from that remote and mountainous area. (Hunan may sound familiar to Chinese food lovers. Like Szechuan, it is a region known for its spicy food and the girls from Hunan are often called “spicy” girls in tribute to the cuisine. Note I said ‘spicy’ and not Spice.)

Milcah is the first girl from her small town to ever go to university. She is known as the Tsinghua girl back home. The local rural people are very proud of their higher education girl. I said, “You must be like a local celebrity,” and she said, “Something like that, yes.”

Since primary school, Milcah was always in the top three among all the students. Her teachers encouraged her not to work so hard and to take a break, rest and relax. Milcah seems to have had an inner drive to succeed without the need for outside encouragement.

She has one older sister, Zhao, who finished high school and is now married with one child, and one younger sister, Shuting. Shuting was not expected after Milcah’s family was allowed to have just two children. However, due to some health complications, the state allowed Milcah’s mother to keep her pregnancy with Shuting. Families in rural areas may have multiple children while only one child is permitted in the city. If you exceed the one child policy in the city, you can possibly jeopardize your employment.

Milcah’s parents did not finish their education beyond the fifth grade. Her father works in a factory and makes about 2,000 Yuan per month, not bad for that rural area, but certainly quite low by Beijing standards. Beijing’s per capita income is 4,000 Yuan per month.

By the time of high school graduation, Milcah had moved up to within one point of being the top student. It was the summer before her senior year and a tragedy occurred. She was hit by a bus on her way home from school.

She doesn’t remember the incident because she lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital where she convalesced for a month. Her mother had to feed her and Milcah was not allowed to return to school to prepare for the national college entrance examination. By the time she did return, her schoolmates were very happy to see her. They knew she had suffered quite an injury, especially to her head.

In the end, Milcah performed very well on the exam and was accepted into China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. During her college years, she worked as a volunteer teacher with a school for the children of migrant workers, known here as China’s floating population. This school operated as an unofficial underground school and relied on volunteer help to survive. Migrant children are not permitted to go to public schools because they are not registered with the state. A Chinese NGO called National Poverty Alleviation honored Milcah with its award for the most excellent organizer of the student union. Her award included an all-expenses paid trip to Guangdong Province where she met many famous pop stars and corporate CEOs.

Milcah received her B.A. in journalism with a law emphasis and then was accepted into the two-year master’s program in global business journalism at Tsinghua University. I met Milcah my very first day in China when I was introduced to all 20 of the global business journalism students. She has a very analytical mind and is a deep thinker. She likes to question what she reads and discuss it with others. Her favorite newspapers are the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. Milcah often tells me what are in those U.S. newspapers before I’ve had a chance to read them!

Milcah’s dream is to pursue further graduate study abroad in an English-speaking country like Australia or the United States. I’ve told her that she has the makings of a college professor, if she so desires. What an incredible joy it is to be a teacher to young minds. Not only does it keep me young and always inquiring, but it also reminds me of what a difference teachers from grade school to graduate school made in my life.

Nancy Snow’s email address is

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