Class of 2012: Commerce Grad Gives Back to International Students

George Wu had never been abroad before he made the decision to enter the University of Virginia in 2008. Undaunted, he boarded a plane bound for Washington, D.C., and traveled more than 7,000 miles from the only home he had known to come to Charlottesville.

A native of Hangzhou, China, a city about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, Wu said he knew continuing his studies in China would have been the wrong choice for him because he would have had to declare a major once he entered college.

"I didn't want to make that decision that early because I don't even think I knew myself that well," Wu said. He was eager to move beyond his previous focus on math and science and learn more about arts and music – things he said were missing from his high school education. "I never got a chance to do different things and to figure out if I had other talents," said Wu, who will graduate May 20 from the McIntire School of Commerce.

Within two weeks of arriving on Grounds, Wu joined the Virginia Glee Club and stayed involved with the all-male group for all four of his years as an undergraduate. He likens the University's oldest active a cappella group to a fraternity. "Glee club really taught me a lot about friendship and brotherhood. You know, people you don't really have any blood relationship with, but you treat them as a family," he said.

In addition to singing, another love for Wu is UVaExpress, the University's bus service that shuttles first-time international Wahoos from area airports to Grounds and brought Wu to U.Va. for the first time in 2008.

Wu said when he arrived at Dulles International Airport that August, he was relieved to see a contingent of U.Va. staff, alumni and volunteers waiting to drive him and his fellow first-years to Charlottesville. "When I first got here, I thought, 'Oh, there are so many people here and they are so friendly!' I thought I was just going to be here alone."

The experience made a lasting impression on Wu, who determined he would be part of the welcoming committee for the next three years. "I remember how I felt when I first got here – I didn't know anyone. Some of these students don't have any relatives in this country. … Leaving your country for the first time, that's really scary," he said.

Wu also felt that new students would be able to relate to him because he had walked in their shoes. "When I first got here I had tons of questions – 'What about class? Where do you normally go to eat? What if the dining hall is not open? Can you stay here in the winter in the dorms?' A lot of these things, I can answer for them.

"This program I feel especially attached to. It was the first impression I got as a U.Va. experience. And that will be the first thing I tell to people. 'You travel to U.Va, your travel is going to be taken care of,'" he said.

The University's assistant director for regional engagement overseas, Darci Spuck, said Wu's work with UVaExpress was invaluable.

"What an outstanding example for new students to see when they arrive: an upper classmate willing to volunteer his time to help them transition to the University and life in the U.S.," she said. "George's smile, welcoming attitude and friendly demeanor helped many new students feel at ease."

Wu has spent much of his last semester looking for jobs in advertising, an industry that typically begins recruiting in late April and finalizes decisions later in May. Wu has had numerous interviews and been offered a post-graduate internship in New York. He is hoping to have a job offer soon.

– by Jane Kelly