Two and a half years in an American public school changed my life forever. I was fifteen when I arrived at Sequoia High in Redwood City, California. It was 1967, the year my parents took my four siblings and me to the U.S. so that we could have the best college education. Before then, we had been living mostly in Hong Kong.

Having traveled half the world to go to school, I dived right away into my studies. To my shock and horror, I discovered that in an American public school, a student’s popularity was often in inverse proportion with his grades. Being a foreigner and straight A go-getter, I was an outcast. My social life consisted of hanging out with teachers after school and doing extra-credit work (which endeared me to my classmates even more). One teacher who always kept an open door was Mrs. Bradley, my English teacher. On the pretext of discussing books, I went to her after school every day.

It should have come as no surprise that I majored in English at U.C. Berkeley. After graduating, I went back to Hong Kong. Journalism became the outlet for my urge to write. AFP, the French news agency, employed me. I took on feature writing and produced my share of China watching. In 1976, when the Asian Wall Street Journal started operations in Hong Kong, I joined the young and dynamic pioneer staff. It was a privilege to participate in the birth of a newspaper.

Two years later, personal and career factors led me to apply for graduate studies in the U.S. The School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University accepted me. Living in D.C. where the school was located, I had the opportunity to intern at the State Department. After obtaining my master's degree in International Affairs, I went to work for the Congressional Quarterly. Six months later, the World Bank hired me as a “Young Professional,” the title for a management-track recruit. At the time, China had just become a member of the World Bank. My Chinese proficiency was an advantage.

For six years, I traveled to my home territory, East Asia, to assess Bank-financed projects. In a spurt of adventurousness, I transferred to East Africa, specifically to work on Somalia. The excitement that awaited me went far beyond my expectations. I watched the country explode into civil war, some say despite western aid, others say because of it. The Somali tragedy moved me deeply, and I began searching for answers.

The old writing bug bit me again. To understand something, I have to write about it. In 2000, when I was no longer with the World Bank, I published a spy thriller, Nightfall in Mogadishu. It was my way of coming to terms with what had happened in Somalia. My second book, Journey across the Four Seas, is a memoir of my mother’s life. After my elderly parents moved in with me, I recorded my mom's life stories and wove them into a memoir. This period of my life led to my third book, a novel about caring for aging parents, called Confucius Says.

I now live in Northern Virginia with my husband, a former colleague of the World Bank.

 

Copyright © 2006 Veronica Li. All rights reserved.