America is a land of opportunity for so many. For freshman Bryan Zhu, who lives in China, the opportunity he was seeking was to go to an American college. Five years ago, Zhu crossed the Pacific Ocean and came to the U.S., ready to study, prepare, and be accepted. What Zhu didn’t expect was the larger plan at work: that by coming to the U.S., Zhu would find God, Catholicism, and Christendom.
When Zhu moved to America in 2013, he did not do so in a vacuum. Many Chinese students move in with an American family during high school with the same purpose in mind — gaining acceptance to an American college — so there was nothing “new” in Zhu’s plan. Or so he thought.
This story was originally published in Christendom’s Instaurare Magazine. Read the latest issue today!
Upon his arrival, Zhu, who was an atheist, moved in with a Protestant family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and enrolled at Lancaster Catholic High School, thanks to a special international student agency called “New Oasis.” While living with the family, Zhu was brought into contact with the ideas of Christianity, and eventually decided to become a Christian as a member of the Protestant church.
“During my sophomore year of high school, I went to a church’s spring retreat with my host family,” recalls Zhu. “As the retreat went on, I felt like it was more than just a gathering of teenagers. I realized that, although many of these people had never met each other, they treated each other like brothers and sisters. This spoke to me a lot as a foreigner. I wanted to join in this kind of family, and so I decided to become a Christian.”
While Zhu was now a Protestant, he was still studying at Lancaster Catholic, where he was also being exposed to the beauties of the Catholic faith. That exposure led to questions, and eventually to belief in the truths of the Catholic faith.
What would come next would challenge Zhu further, and take him even deeper into the Catholic faith: a conversation with a friend’s parents about the Experience Christendom Summer Program. Zhu, a naturally curious young adult, thought “why not?” He was floored at what he experienced during the one week program.
“It was not until this past week that I really knew exactly what education is,” wrote Zhu after attending the program. “Human beings are not machines. We are not supposed to be trained to do one specific thing only. Sadly, that’s exactly what most of the schools can only provide to ‘educate’ the youth today. Most of us don’t even know who we are, where are we going and what are we living for. After a week of being at Christendom College, I really felt how ignorant I am about myself, about humanity, and about God. Instead of training people into a work machine, Christendom’s liberal arts curriculum restores our knowledge of what does it mean to be a human being.”
Zhu truly fell in love with the liberal arts education offered at Christendom during the week, as he learned philosophy, history, English language and literature, and theology from Christendom’s faculty. The education, in just one week, opened new doors for him into the depths of human knowledge. The life in the classroom dovetailed beautifully with the life outside of it as well, as Zhu experienced an authentic Catholic culture in the hikes, dances, and debates he shared with the forty-seven other participants in his session.
While he loved his Christendom experience, Zhu was already set on going to another Catholic university in Pennsylvania initially after high school. After one semester, Zhu realized that the school just did not have what he had found at Christendom — the kind of education that deepened his faith and improved his life. After a time of prayer, Zhu decided to transfer to Christendom in the spring of 2018 — an amazing turn of events, after his initial flight to the U.S. only five years before.
Zhu is just beginning his Christendom journey, but he already feels at home. He’s forming strong friendships with his classmates, goes to daily Mass frequently, and is enjoying the rigor of Christendom’s classes. He may still be discerning what he wants to do after college, but Zhu is confident that he will be ready for anything, thanks to the foundation he’s receiving. “One of the most important reasons that I enjoy being here is the Catholic atmosphere. It’s absolutely unprecedented. I couldn’t find any other school that has the same atmosphere, and its perfect meld of the classical and Catholic traditions. The education here is more than just learning a set of skills — it’s learning how to think and how to act when any situation comes up. We’re promoted from being like a machine to being a hu-man being, who actually flourishes, thanks to Christendom,” says Zhu.
Zhu will complete his journey in faith as a Christendom student when he comes into the Catholic Church this Easter. He may be a long way from his homeland in China, but he feels more at home than ever before. He’s found a new life in the Catholic faith, a decision that ultimately brought him to Christendom for his college education.
A deepened faith. A love for the liberal arts. An exposure to what great possibilities the future holds. This is Bryan Zhu’s American story so far. Great things are sure to follow.