Meet the Newcomers: Lina Xu

Dec. 2, 2008

In the last of three Q&A's with the newcomers to the Husky women's tennis squad, sophomore transfer Lina Xu details her decision to leave her native Shanghai and finish high school in the U.S. and how that eventually led her to Washington. Xu talks about the differences between school in China and America, and how she tries to bring the logic from her engineering studies to the tennis court.

GoHuskies.com: So what went into your decision to transfer to Washington?
Lina Xu:
'I wanted to come a year ago after I'd just graduated high school, but I contacted Jill too late, it was the end of April or May, so they had no spots. So I started looking at other schools I could go to for a year and then see. So my coach from California said there were some schools that wanted me, and Jacksonville, the coach said I could come and if I liked it I could stay, and if not they'd give me a release and that's fine. The team there was not bad, they were ranked when I got there, so I thought if I could make it at No. 1 or No. 2 on the team I would still plan to transfer.

'They didn't have the engineering major I wanted. They had a program where you did three years at Jacksonville and then you would transfer to another school, an Ivy League school, but I didn't want to do that because I knew I wouldn't get a scholarship from an Ivy League school and I need to stay in school for five years.

'I played No. 1 on the team, but the thing is our conference isn't really great. So we won the conference for the second straight year, but we lost to Florida at nationals. Pretty much we go to Nationals, play Florida in the first round and we're done. So I felt like it was no challenge for me. I started looking at schools again and I went to Illinois, Auburn, Iowa, and then one day Damon (Coupe) shot me an email after I visited Auburn--I was going to go to Auburn--just before I almost decided, he said, `There's one spot open.' So I visited here and I loved it. I feel like it's my home. You go somewhere and you feel like you belong there. That's what I felt when I came here, so I gave up on the other schools and decided to go to UW. It's like meant to be. I went with my feeling.'

GH: Where is the home that it reminded you of?
LX:
'I grew up in Shanghai and was born there. I came to the U.S. three years ago and I finished high school in San Diego by myself.'

GH: When did you learn English?
LX:
'English is kind of a second language class in China, so everyone can speak a little. But it's so different. The first year in the U.S. was pretty tough for me. I went to class and I had no clue what they were saying, and I was staring at the teacher thinking, `what the heck are you talking about?' I didn't do homework because I had no clue where to find information for homework, I had no clue what GPA is or SAT is and it took me a year to figure out all this stuff. So that was tough, and that's why everything was late. I didn't take my SAT early enough and didn't take TOEFL, and I didn't know I had to keep a 3.0 GPA and all that stuff.'

GH: What led you to first come to the U.S.?
LX:
'When I came here I wanted to play tennis--that was the reason--because we didn't have a lot of tournaments going on in Shanghai or anywhere really in China, so we had to travel out of the country which takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. I had friends from America in China who said, `Well if you go to America...' I had a choice between Europe and America because these two places have the most tournaments going on, so I can play tournaments without going far. So I decided to go to the U.S. because I thought it would have better competition in tennis and academics.

'I came here and realized you can't go anywhere without a car. It's different in Shanghai, where you can go anywhere without a car, but in America even to go to the grocery store you can't walk there. Then I had to do full-time studying because my mom and dad made a deal that said I could go to the U.S. but I had to get good grades. My parents didn't want me to play tennis, they just wanted me to study. So it was kind of a deal where they'd pay for me to play tennis with private lessons and travel to tournaments, but I had to do all the schoolwork and get good grades.'

GH: So your parents didn't come over with you?
LX:
'My dad didn't agree with it, but my mom said if you choose to do something, you follow through and do your best. It doesn't matter what you're doing as long as you do your best and you keep with it. My dad has a business back home, and he didn't like for me to come here anyway, and my mom felt like there wasn't a point for her coming because she can't speak English and she didn't want to start things again. So that's why she was like if you want to go, you go for it. She thought I was smart and would pick things up and it was my decision.'

GH: So how did you first get settled here?
LX:
'When I came here in the beginning, my mom had some friends, so I stayed with them a little and then they found a host family that I just paid rent and food money and they would get my food and let me stay in their house.

'I got a lot of help in the beginning. I feel really fortunate because a lot of people that come to the U.S. by themselves have it really tough in the beginning. I've heard all kinds of bad stories. People lose a whole bunch of money. It can be a really bad experience. But in the beginning for me I was pretty fortunate with so many people helping me. There was always someone there supporting me.'

GH: Has your father softened to the idea of being over here now that you've shown you can succeed?
LX:
'After I came here I did a pretty good job, so he's proud of me, but at the same time he just feels like what's the point of going to the U.S.? Why not just stay home? `You're a girl, what are you doing by yourself?' I had just turned 16, and he thought I should have just gone to school there in China and he didn't understand why I wanted to come. My mom's kind of a career woman, so she understands me really well. She knows my goals and what I want for my future. I always know what I want. There's a lot of kids that don't know that, so they just think, `I'll just finish high school and finish college like everyone else and then figure out what I'm going to do.' When I was really little I knew what I wanted. So when I would say what I wanted, I would do it and I would finish. Even if I fail, it's fine. It's a life lesson you practice. You're going into the real world, and you will fail. But you learn something from it. If you don't go and try you don't learn anything. So that's why my mom supported it the whole time.'

GH: How often have you been able to go back home to China?
LX:
'Actually I haven't been home for three years. Every time I go home I need to have all my documents ready. I thought about moving back home after my first year, but the system in China is if I came back after just one year I would have had to redo that year of high school, so it made more sense to stay here and finish. Then after high school I wanted to play pro tennis but I also wanted to go to college, and you can't do both of those at the same time. So my private coach in California said how in the U.S. even the college teams are good. If you go to a good team the coaches are strong and you get to practice with the best girls, and then after college you can still go pro if you want to or get a job because you'll have your degree. That convinced me that it was the best for my future to stay. Then each summer since there has been all the complications with college applications and tests and transferring. But this winter I'm finally going back. I got my ticket last month, now that everything is settled down and I know I'm going to stay here for three years. It's been tough not going home but there just hasn't been a good time. You can't force certain things to happen, you have to follow whatever is happening.'

GH: How do the school systems differ between here and China?
LX:
'The U.S. is pretty relaxed. In China, if you take physics, you have to memorize every single formula. They don't have all the formulas for you on the test, or give you a separate paper, and open book; no, there's no way. In China you have to memorize every single thing and it's their goal to make you get a bad grade. Most people will probably get 60- or 70-percent in a class. That's considered good. I went to one of the toughest schools in the city, and there were probably two or three people out of three- or four-hundred people that get 90% or better. In China it's nine years of school instead of 12 here. You just need to finish junior high. So when you go to high school you're taking a test that's like the SATs, but for high school admission. So half of the people can't go to high school in China, because they can't pass the test. It is really hard. People will just start to review for that test to go to high school for a month in advance, just studying from morning to night every single day. And a lot of people can't handle it because if they fail, that's it and they can't go to high school. It's really tough. In Shanghai, if you don't get a degree from college, you're not going to get any job. The people who get bachelor degrees it's still tough. All my family had degrees and it took as long as a year just to find a job, not even worrying about the wage.'

GH: Well it looks like you're on the right track for sure. Switching topics to your tennis game, how would you describe yourself as a player?
LX:
'I'll fight. I like to figure out what's going on with my opponent first. I'll find a way to figure out what that person's good and bad shots are. I'm not a player that just plays the same way every time. I like to figure it out and then find a solution. That's why I'm doing engineering and science, I like to be logical. I like to find out what's going on and then find a solution to it. So I guess everything goes back to that.'

GH: Has it been hard to make another transition after you had gotten comfortable at Jacksonville? How do you balance your time as an engineering student?
LX:
'Yeah, I have a really tough schedule for school, and pretty much my schedule is morning to night. You know your brain sometimes just blanks out because you're tired. I usually can focus in tennis because you have to move your feet and watch every single ball to hit it, but in class you don't always have to watch every single word. Tennis is a tough thing, mentally and physically. Class allows you to just sit there, and try to focus. It's hard for me because I'm taking all the science classes so I kind of need to understand everything in lecture.'

(The following question was asked during fall play)

GH: What are you hoping to take away from the fall tournaments this year?
LX:
'For me the fall season is to see the other girls and what kinds of styles they play, for when I play them in dual matches. So it's not really about beating all of them, it's about knowing them and finding a solution to beat them next quarter. I had a five month summer, and took a lot of time off and my body slowed down and needs to get back into a match pattern. So I'm not thinking I need to beat everyone right now, just pay attention to my opponents and figure out a solution to beat them. Who I play for the next year is not going to change much; the same girls will be there to play me. It's about how to beat the certain girls I will play next year, not how to figure out how to beat every single person. It takes time, and my mind and body need to get ready.'

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