The first thing Caroline Chang Lu ’56 saw when she arrived on the Macalester campus in 1952 was the United Nations flag. She’d learned about the international organization as a high school student in Taiwan. Now she was alone on the other side of the world in St. Paul, trying to understand not only English but also the academic and social customs of American college students.
That flag reminded Caroline that she was indeed welcome at Macalester, her perspective valued on a campus that has long celebrated internationalism. Macalester was one of the first colleges in the country to fly the U.N. flag, which first appeared on campus in 1950. “The U.N. flag symbolically announced to the world our commitment to internationalism,” says Aaron Colhapp, director of international student programs. “Internationalism isn’t something that is simply taught in the classroom or read in a book; we need to meet one another, interact with one another, learn from one another and help one another.”
Since Caroline’s arrival on campus, thousands of international students—including her younger sisters Yvonne Chang ’63 and Serena Chang Tsui ’63—have found an American academic home at Macalester. And their influence on the college has been profound. “International students bring different perspectives and approaches to solving problems and living life outside the classroom,” says Colhapp. “Collectively, international and domestic students challenge each other to move beyond what they know, think on a deeper level, and not be comfortable with an ethnocentric view.”
The Chang sisters’ path to Macalester was rooted in political upheaval. Their father, a Harvard-trained lawyer, served on China’s supreme court. When Japan invaded China in 1937, the family moved with the government from Nanking to the country’s interior, in an area so remote there were no options for a formal education. “I didn’t go to grade school because the countryside didn’t have schools,” Caroline says.
When Mao Zedong took over mainland China in 1949, the Changs fled to Taiwan, where Caroline restarted her education and finished high school at 21. Because at that time only graduate students were given visas, she wouldn’t have been allowed to attend college in the United States if not for the fact that she and her twin brother had been born in Cambridge, Massachusetts— the family moved back to China when they were one month old—and therefore she was a U.S. citizen.
Her parents chose Macalester because it was small enough that they assumed Caroline would receive support as she gained fluency in English. They also liked that it was internationally focused and that a cousin was studying nearby at the University of Minnesota.
Caroline loved the independence she experienced at Macalester. “Growing up in China, you are always a child, especially if you are a girl,” she says. But her college years were in many ways vastly different from those of her American classmates. In addition to struggling with the language, she was overwhelmed by all she didn’t know about her new country.
“Everything was different,” Caroline says. “In my history class I didn’t know if New Hampshire was a city or a state or a river.” Her transition wasn’t helped by the fact that she lived in the off-campus home of a retired nurse, where she received room and board in exchange for doing housework. “She was always correcting my English,” Caroline remembers of her landlord. While she admits that other students didn’t last long as housekeepers, due to their boss’s exacting standards, she managed to stay for four years.
Caroline majored in education, and went on to work as an elementary school teacher in upstate New York and Minneapolis. Later, she stayed at home to raise son, Kevin, with her husband, internationally acclaimed urban planner Weiming Lu, whom she had met by the time Serena and Yvonne arrived at Macalester in 1959.
Like their sister, Serena and Yvonne lived and worked in private homes in exchange for room and board. And also like their sister, they had their educations interrupted by war. Serena, the middle sister, says that she and Yvonne attended 10 different schools in China, Japan, and Taiwan before arriving in Minnesota.
At Macalester, the sisters found academic stability. Serena majored in history and went on to a career in library science. She and her husband, Lutheran minister Stephen Tsui, moved among Minnesota, Hong Kong, and Taiwan before returning to the Twin Cities for good in 1998. Yvonne majored in French and moved to New York City, where she worked for the United Nations for 35 years in personnel administration.
Both of the younger Changs, like older sister Caroline, recall their Macalester experience as a time of intense transitions and everyday adaptations: Yvonne remembers slipping on the ice when she went outside to collect the newspaper, as well as being required to wear skirts to a tea hosted by Margaret Doty, dean of women from 1924 to 1960. “There were no slacks allowed,” she says. “I didn’t grow up with that culture.” Still, they remember their Macalester education fondly. “Macalester was so welcoming,” says Yvonne. “As international students, we were treated like treasures.”
Today, after decades of moving and working in other states and countries, all three sisters have returned to the Twin Cities to spend their retirements together. There are still cultural barriers—Yvonne says she continues to struggle with differentiating various Scandinavian surnames, for example.
But there are rewards, too, especially after lives filled with such dramatic upheavals. “War ruins your plans,” says Serena. “Our lives were always turned upside down. We’ve gone through so much. It’s great to be back in Minnesota.”
Elizabeth Foy Larsen is a Minneapolis freelance writer and editor.
April 25 2018Back to top