Chun Li, '15

Chun Li, '15

February 6, 2014
International student explores disparate academic interests while studying abroad

For triple major Chun Li, ’15, college has been less a path from A to degree and more a matter of broadening his experiences and finding links between different fields of knowledge.

The junior Robins Science Scholar and recipient of the 2013 Physical Chemistry Award is studying biochemistry, mathematics — and music. But although these areas of study may seem far apart, to Li they complement each other perfectly.

“I feel there’s a strong connection between music and science,” he says. “The reason I study mathematics is I feel music is not only about passions and emotions; it’s more about mathematics. The chord progressions, the harmonies are all related to math.”

Classical music, for Li, is one of the best places to find these mathematical footprints, which he uncovers not only in the classroom, but also on the stage, performing on both piano and violin with a chamber music ensemble.

Although Li’s time at Richmond could easily have been consumed by the laboratory and the concert hall, he was eager to look beyond even these ambits. Consequently, he is spending his entire junior year studying abroad, first at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and then at the University of Melbourne in Australia. It’s an ambitious program, but for the Chinese student, whose whole university experience is being spent outside his homeland, it was a natural decision.

“Melbourne will give me a different lifestyle compared to Edinburgh and the United States,” he says. “I want to experience a lot of different cultures.”

Edinburgh was a logical study abroad selection for Li for several reasons. First, it allowed him to choose the curriculum he wanted: a combination of music courses such as orchestration and science courses including cell biology, structures and functions of protein, and computer science. The country also came personally recommended — one of Li’s mentors, Professor Ellis Bell in the Department of Chemistry, hails from Scotland and often told Li stories about it, as did one of his Cultural Advisors.

And then, of course, there was the music.

“Edinburgh is a great place to hear interesting music,” says Li. And with an abundance of concerts costing only around five pounds each, he says he’s been to 10 or more over the course of his time there.

All of this musical exposure prepared him for his second semester studying abroad in Melbourne, where, “for the first time in my life,” he says, he’ll have a semester without any science classes at all: “I’ll be purely a music student.”

The two study abroad programs not only have opened Li’s eyes to new cultures and different academic experiences but have also made him reflect on the opportunities he’s received at Richmond.

“I really feel that when you have something that’s really precious to you, you don’t always realize it until you leave the place,” he says. “I really feel like UR has offered me a lot of things. We might be small, but we offer a lot.”