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“Ask Jacky Chen.” BU Chinese Students Did, All the Time

Graduating senior had all the answers for incoming international Chinese freshmen

“You can present your real self. We are all students of BU. You can be Bostonian and Chinese.”
—Jacky Chen

For the past four years, Chinese international students had a saying for how to get honest, unfiltered answers to questions about BU or Boston: Ask Jacky Chen.

I want to get to know American students—is it okay to just strike up a conversation with someone after class? I’m a little shy about my English.

Is it as hard to get a high GPA at BU as some rumors suggest?

Which dorm should I live in?

What’s the food in the dining halls like?

What clothes should I buy to survive the New England winter?

What is the BU Hub?

Whatever the questions about BU, or about Boston, Jacky Chen (CAS’19) either had the answers—or knew how to get them.

A Shanghai native and past president of the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association (BUCSSA), Junyu Chen, Jacky, as he is known among his thousands of friends on the ubiquitous Chinese social media platform WeChat, became something of a legend among his peers.

For incoming freshmen from China, many who had never been to Boston—or for that matter, the United States—before, Chen, who considers himself Chinese-Bostonian, became a one-person orientation team. Before students, and their parents, even started packing, they were firing questions from China via BUCSSA’s WeChat channel. It is part of the legend of Jacky Chen that even with the 12- or 13-hour time difference between China and Boston, he made himself available practically 24-7.

“People talk about him as if he were a human dictionary,” says Chen’s friend junior Muhan Yu (COM), who worked with him at the BUCSSA. “How could he possibly answer anything at anytime? It’s just too amazing to be true.” Yu says that “even my mom knows Jackie’s role as a BU Chinese student influencer. I believe most of the Chinese parents know him. He’s the most famous one.”

Chen, who majored in economics and plans to pursue a graduate degree at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, acknowledges that it has been time-consuming, but says he has no regrets.

Hopefully, he says, what he’s done to help his fellow students from China will “inspire others to follow and show how kind and helpful BU students are.” Sipping a S’mores Frappuccino at the GSU Starbucks, with his finals behind him, Chen says he hopes the work he did becomes his legacy. “Many Chinese students and parents need help and advice, especially if they are sending their kid to a completely unknown place for four years.”

With Google Maps difficult to access in China because of government censorship, parents would turn to Chen with their concerns about BU’s streets and surrounding neighborhoods. Are they safe? he was often asked. Chen, who braved Boston gridlock to take driving lessons (he got his license junior year), always offered them reassurance.

Before he arrived at BU four years ago, Chen had been to the United States only once, to attend an academic summer program at Stanford University during high school. “For the first month, it was pretty hard,” he says. “You feel a little embarrassed when you say something wrong. I got a lot of help from the BU Chinese Students and Scholars Association.”

He says that “BU, and Boston, are pretty inclusive. All you need to do is start a conversation with someone.” And it helps to know something about football—especially the Patriots. During sophomore year he and some friends went to the Patriots Super Bowl victory parade. “It was very exciting,” he says. “But I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know what the Super Bowl means to Americans.”

He learned quickly. And passed his Super Bowl knowledge on via WeChat so others would not feel as out-of-touch as he had.

Chen also posted advice about speaking up in class. “Asians are sometimes very conservative,” he says. “You need to be brave and express your ideas, right or wrong.”

After making it through his first blizzard, he took to WeChat to offer his Survival List for Winter: “Heavy clothes. Canada Goose is expensive, but it keeps you warm. A hat, and it should fit tightly. Good boots. Uggs are recommended.” When it comes to Boston rain, he advised forgetting the umbrella. “An umbrella is a waste of money. It will just break.”

An American history buff, Chen urged his WeChat followers to walk the Freedom Trail and visit Lexington, where the first battle of the American Revolution was fought in 1775.

For international students, the cultural terrain can be tricky. For example, a lot of Chinese students, like Chen, adopt American-sounding first names before they come here so their professors and classmates won’t have to struggle with Chinese pronunciation.

“We think it is our duty to adapt,” says Chen, who chose Jacky, in homage to film star Jackie Chan, when he was a student at an international high school in Shanghai, where many of the teachers were British.

While he was fine with being called Jacky, he says, he was reluctant to give up his Chinese name, Junyu, which means “beautiful universe.” He approached College of Arts & Sciences lecturer Pary Fassihi, his freshman writing teacher, with this question: “Is it appropriate to use my Chinese name?”

“She said, ‘You don’t need to worry, we shall respect you,’” Chen says. “She said, ‘You came from overseas for an education here. It is our obligation to remember your name. You don’t need to have an English name—you should feel comfortable using your Chinese name.’”

He took those words to heart, and by sophomore year, Chen, who is fluent in English and Mandarin, decided to go by both names. “Whatever you feel comfortable with,” he told people who asked which he preferred.

On WeChat, he stuck with Jacky, but he told his online community that students should feel free to keep their Chinese names. “I said, ‘You can present your real self,’” Chen says. “We are all students of BU. You can be Bostonian and Chinese.”’

Chen’s parents arrived from Shanghai on Tuesday for graduation. His mother is a business executive and his father is a manager of a sales company. Eventually, Chen says, he hopes to return to China and work in investment banking.

“I want to make my parents proud,” he says.

On Sunday, he will.

10 Comments
Sara Rimer, Senior Writer and Director, Research Communications at Boston University
Sara Rimer

Sara Rimer can be reached at srimer@bu.edu.

10 Comments on “Ask Jacky Chen.” BU Chinese Students Did, All the Time

  • Megan Sullivan on 05.16.2019 at 7:11 am

    Thank you, Junyu, for all you have done for BU students!

  • Vivian on 05.16.2019 at 11:20 am

    As bu student’s mother in china thank you so much for jjnyu’ helpful assistance to our questions about Bu , Boston

    • Junyu Chen on 05.17.2019 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you! It is my pleasure to share my experience and thoughts with you and others!

  • Sara Rimer on 05.16.2019 at 12:57 pm

    Hi, Vivian,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for sending your student all the way to BU! The University is very lucky to have students like Junyu, aka Jacky Chen. We’d love to hear more from you and other parents about how Jacky Chen has been helpful. Were there certain things about BU and Boston you learned from him via WeChat? Did you take his advice about Winter Survival Clothing?
    Thank you again for reading our story on Jacky Chen! Best, Sara

  • Kara Jackman on 05.16.2019 at 1:00 pm

    Well done. Junyu. Happy commencement. This is the beginning of nothing but great things for you!

  • Mary Yao on 05.16.2019 at 6:36 pm

    Good job, Junyu, Jacky, very proud of you! What you have done tiers to your BU Motto which are Learning, virtue, piety. Congratulate on your graduation! Appreciate BU bring up you to another level.

  • Pary Fassihi on 05.17.2019 at 12:18 pm

    I am so proud of you, Junyu! I still very vividly remember your first writing class with me! You asked a lot of great questions, and passed those along to your peers! Bravo! You’ve had an impact on our community! What an asset you have been! Best of luck in your bright future!

    • Mary on 05.18.2019 at 7:45 am

      Thanks so much, dear Pary! You have influenced Jacky, Junyu a lot, appreciate all your done for him, welcome you visit Shanghai in future.

  • Sara Rimer on 05.17.2019 at 3:10 pm

    Hi, Pary,
    Thank you for publicly congratulating Junyu. He made a point of telling me how much he appreciated you and all his other BU writing teachers. It was moving to hear him talk about what you said about how he should feel
    free to keep his Chinese name & that we would respect him by remembering it. Thanks again for your great comment!

  • Junyu Chen on 05.17.2019 at 3:36 pm

    Thank you so much professor! It was my pleasure to have you as my very first writing instructor in BU, and I have learnt so much from you! I really appreciate everything you taught me!

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