Vers(es) In Diversity: Frank Zhou ’22 Presents On Chinese Students At Andover

Frank Zhou’22 connected his parents’ personal stories to the international education exchange.

Frank Zhou ’22 explored stories within Andover’s engagement in transnational history one century after the Sino-U.S. educational exchange. On Friday, May 13, Zhou delivered his Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) Scholar presentation “The Vers(es) in Diversity: Chinese Students at Andover” in Kemper Auditorium.

Zhou believes that the title of his presentation encapsulates the power of transnational histories and the complex network of stories and relationships that arise from transnational exchange.

“‘The Vers(es) in Diversity’ gets up the artistry of this history, the artistry of the network of alumni relationships, that blossomed from this interaction. In this exchange, so many stories can be spun into verses, into something more than just a history, something that verges on poetry,” said Zhou.

After six months of intense research, Zhou’s project culminated into a presentation based on fact and history, yet connected to narratives. He began his presentation with a personal story about his parents’ educational journeys in America.

“Both of my parents are Chinese students who studied in America. I grew up with them telling bedtime stories of haggling in the wet market as an undergrad and trying to find a place for their mattress in grad school, different things that they experienced while studying at the University of Minnesota together, having completed their undergraduate education in China. These were the stories and the narratives that I grew up with,” said Zhou.

He continued, “All of this became wrapped up in one bundle – one convergence – when I realized that there were 5,000 archival documents in the [Andover] archives and special collections on Chinese Students at Andover. I am a Chinese American student at Andover, but the degree to which I’ve tried to tether myself to Chinese literature and Chinese language and culture has given me a sort of affinity for intimacy with the facets of a cultural liminality that the Chinese students themselves dealt with certain gestures. This was then a personal pursuit just as much as a rigorous and academic one. And trying to tell their stories was in part trying to explore my own legacy, or my own history.”

Dr. Paige Roberts, Director of Archives and Special Collections, was Zhou’s faculty advisor for his project. She was impressed by Zhou’s outreach skills, his pursuit of academic rigor, and his ability to immerse himself into a larger scholarly conversation about transnational educational exchange.

“He has a pretty extraordinary ability to ask really compelling, important, nuanced questions. That is such a valuable skill that I’m hoping other students will work on and acquire during their time here. He also has this incredible ability to reach out to scholars around the world and impress them with his curiosity and engagement with their work. That has enabled him to be part of a larger scholarly conversation in terms of this history of Chinese and U.S. educational exchange. And that is unique in my experience. I’ve been here for ten years, and he is certainly the only student I know whose work goes beyond, ‘Wow, here’s a brilliant paper.’ He is part of a larger scholarly conversation throughout the country that is really impressive and inspiring,” said Dr. Roberts.

Similar to Roberts’s positive reaction to Zhou’s presentation, Dr. Michael Legaspi, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, expressed joy for Zhou’s success as a researcher and presenter. He believes that Zhou has a special ability to be careful with human aspects of the histories he examined.

“Frank has tremendous sensitivity to the human contours of his subjects, which I think is rare for researchers, as they tend to be concerned about the facts and the details, evidence, making claims, making arguments; Frank did those things. But I think what shines through in his work is his sensitivity to feeling emotion, aspiration, and disappointment, the kind of human parts of the story. To the extent that he connects with that and connects us with that, it strikes me as a kind of romantic disposition,” said Legaspi.

Laerdon Kim ’24, an attendee of Zhou’s presentation, appreciated Zhou’s storytelling skills and creativity in engaging the audience. He felt as though the presentation was transformative and unlike any other CaMD presentation he has seen before.

“Everyone was so impressed by Frank, seeing a student, a senior, that has put in so much time and effort into studying and analyzing and also formatting a story and cultivating a story. In the end, he conducted the audience to clap and imitate the sound of dripping rain to that of a thunderstorm. It felt like I have gone through the process, and it was something I’ve never seen in a CaMD presentation before,” said Kim.