Katherine Lyu, a junior at the University of Iowa (UI) from China, is double majoring in English & creative writing and philosophy with a certificate in museum studies. She is a student employee with International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and the Office of the State Archaeologist, president of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association (CSSA), a member of the BIJOU Film Board, publicity director of UNICEF Iowa, and former volunteer at the Old Capitol Museum. Learn more about Katherine and her experience through this Q&A piece.
What prompted you to pursue your undergraduate studies in creative writing at the UI?
I was not sure about this major at the beginning. I was sure I would study philosophy because I had liked it since high school. However, since the career path of philosophy seemed narrow, I was considering adding another major. After consulting with my advisor, he recommended English & creative writing. Later, I found out that I liked it very much and learned a lot from it.
Have you taken advantage of any writing resources and programs offered by the UI?
Iowa City is a UNESCO-accredited city of literature, with the Iowa Writers' Workshop (MFA) program, it is quite a literary city; there are many writers who graduate from here and return to present their work. In addition to the atmosphere, I would like to mention the professors and the curriculum.
First of all, the program includes literature courses under the English major and writing courses under creative writing. Professors here have their own genres of literature they specialize in; they teach the methodologies of reading and techniques of handling words, but they never offer a “correct answer." They encourage students to interpret the text from multiple perspectives and to present it in the reflection assessment. In fact, they can tell from the reflection whether you are following a correct path or just roughly reading, but they never grade you on your ideas and content.
In terms of curriculum, I really like the 2000-level writing class and the 4000-level workshop. In the 2000-level writing class, students get initial exposure to genres of interest and start to write. After they start writing, students can participate in a workshop of their preferred genre, where the professor and peers read and critique the writing pieces. This can be very effective for a writer. Sometimes, people can also take their pieces to professors during their office hours to ask for feedback. Most of the professors are nice, such as one of my professors this semester, who is the director of the nonfiction writing program, who read my essay word for word and talked to me individually about his thoughts. I found this very heartwarming and helpful.
Prairie Lights is a bookstore in downtown Iowa City that is near the UI campus where many authors hold their readings, and it also sells textbooks. It's like a stronghold where classes and after-school activities come together, and I love studying at the bookstore myself.
How are you involved on campus as a student leader?
Becoming a student leader gives me more opportunities to present and practice my ideas and to reflect more on the world, my surroundings, and myself. My position with ISSS, working on the Life in Iowa program, and being a leader with the CSSA are two opportunities that have a lot of possibilities. In other words, they give me the opportunity to try something meaningful and to try to achieve something. For example, in my work at ISSS, I have created events on women’s physical health and museums, as I personally consider these topics crucial; they deal with the topics of "human rights" and "education" which are at the basic and intermediate levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I hope to raise people’s awareness of them. In considering bringing these insights to UI students, I have also learned a lot about interacting with people and have benefited from these scenarios, which has strengthened my desire to help more people.
Overall, working at ISSS has given me a deeper understanding of my identity as an international student. Working and interacting with international students from all over the world and considering issues that may not be considered in a domestic environment has allowed me to become more holistic in my thinking and become more critical and thoughtful in my interactions with people. This job has also made me realize that international higher education is a young field with many important topics. Through my work, I have also come in contact with many people who are deeply involved in this field and whose work is important to the growing number of international students coming to the United States, and I am very proud to be part of this endeavor.
When I first came to the U.S., I experienced a relatively long period of loneliness. As a result, I was focused on finding jobs and clubs on campus, hoping to keep myself busy, so I joined clubs such as CSSA and Heart Workshop. In doing so, I started to feel more content, had a daily schedule, made friends, and gradually became aware of my life in the U.S.; this helped me find my place on campus, and I was no longer lacking goals and aimless.
What are your future plans and goals?
My recent goal is to work on the interdepartmental project from the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences next semester while completing two honors courses, in which I am going to explore the possibilities of multimedia writing, or non-fiction writing in the form of video. I will also continue to work in museums at the UI and begin research on museum digitalization. In the future, I will continue to work on museums and multimedia research, and I hope to combine the two to truly make museums accessible to everyone.
What advice would you give to prospective international students considering the UI and other international students on campus?
Don't be afraid to talk to people! Whether it's your professor, advisor, or anyone in your interest track. You may not know each other, but as researchers who have been working in a particular direction for years, they will sincerely welcome everyone who knocks on their door; if you are someone who is passionate and curious about a particular direction, they are more than happy to share what they know and lead you.
International Programs (IP) at the University of Iowa (UI) is committed to enriching the global experience of UI students, faculty, staff, and the general public by leading efforts to promote internationally oriented teaching, research, creative work, and community engagement. IP provides support for international students and scholars, administers scholarships and assistance for students who study, intern, or do research abroad, and provides funding opportunities and grant-writing assistance for faculty engaged in international research. IP shares their stories through various media, and by hosting multiple public engagement activities each year.