DCB Alumni Interview | Tsinghua Student Michael Li Jr

Dulwich College Beijing

What has life after Dulwich College Beijing been like for some of our former students? We reached out to some of our Dulwich College Beijing alumni or IOAs (International Old Alleynians) to hear more about their journeys after DCB, some of their fond memories while at the College and their advice for our younger generation of students. 

In this piece, we catch up with Class of 2021 Michael Li Jr., a Psychology Student at Tsinghua University and former House Prefect of Soong. Michael joined DCB in Year 6. Now, as he navigates through his days at Tsinghua University, renowned for its academic excellence and global standing, Michael reflects on his time at DCB and imparts valuable advice to current students.


Could you tell us more about your life at DCB, and how your experiences helped you with your life now at Tsinghua? 

I was mostly in music-related ECAs, such as Chamber Choir and male voice choir, and during my time in IB managed House events. I also led rehearsals for our House Drama. Thanks to those events and the opportunities I had to explore my interests, I got to socialise and enjoy my school life more. My best memory of DCB is my time with my friends because I feel like students at DCB are much more cohesive and easygoing.

A performance with Chamber Choir A performance with Chamber Choir
Celebrating the winning of House Cup Celebrating the winning of House Cup
Michael as House Prefect during sports day Michael as House Prefect during sports day

Being involved in many extracurricular activities at DCB helped me build a strong foundation for managing my time and finding a balance between extracurriculars and school. 

Being involved in extracurriculars early allowed me to cultivate some important skills such as communication and organisation. These helped me adapt quite quickly to the extracurricular activities here because the events here involve more people and are on a much bigger scale. So, starting with ones on a smaller scale, like at DCB, really helped me transition to events with a bigger scale here, like at Tsinghua.

Michael after a baseball game in Tsinghua Michael after a baseball game in Tsinghua

Can you tell us more about the transition from DCB to Tsinghua?

Oh, I'm going to be frank: It was hard. It would have been hard for me anywhere because it's hard for every single student here. It doesn't matter where you came from. It doesn't matter how well you were off in high school. It doesn't matter where you went to high school. It's very hard. It's because there are so many more things for you to do and more work in terms of workload and homework.

And there’s less time in general. When you start living on your own and start managing your own time, you'll realise how valuable time is, and that you need to be more efficient with it. So, I had to adjust by fitting in as much work as I could in small periods of time because time was scattered all over the place. It's not like in high school where classes are from 8.30am to 3.30pm. Here, classes start at 8 and the latest ones will end at 10. And then there’s extracurriculars and all kinds of stuff you need to do in between.

What made you decide to study Psychology at Tsinghua University, and can you tell us more about the application process?

Proximity to home was an important factor for me. I wanted to be in an environment that I was already very used to, and I was worried about experiencing culture shock and wanted to be somewhere familiar so that I could easily fit in.

When I was applying to Tsinghua, I didn’t know I was going to choose Psychology because you don’t get to choose your major until a year later. At Tsinghua, we first apply to a big faculty or a big school like Social Sciences, and after studying for a year, I chose Psychology because that was what interested me the most. 

The application process isn’t that different. Compared to US schools, there are fewer essays to write, but everything else is pretty much the same. You don't have to do SATs or IELTs, but if you've done them, sending out an extra grade to the school still helps, and the school will be happy to see it as an extra factor to consider.

But at Tsinghua University, you need to take a Chinese exam. It’s a simple entrance exam and interviews are usually in Chinese, though I was surprised when mine was bilingual. My entrance exam was in English because that was the instruction on the exam. 

People who are interested in going to Tsinghua would need to know that Tsinghua is very academic and stressful. However, that's true for many top universities around the world. I feel like Tsinghua is much more global than people imagine it to be, but for those interested, you have to make sure that Chinese isn't a language barrier as classes are taught in Chinese.

That was the deciding factor for a lot of my friends. I have a friend who applied for Tsinghua, but he was nervous that he had to relearn everything in Chinese. A lot of international students here also find it slightly difficult to learn everything in Chinese and to do all their homework in Chinese. Interested students need to be okay with a strong focus on academics and learning, not mind having a lot of homework and a heavy workload and be okay with academic pressure. Nonetheless, it’s a decent experience as there are a lot of resources offered here. 

Most of my classes are in Chinese, and I learn everything in Chinese along with Chinese students. However, most of my teachers from my course Psychology have been abroad, and we read English materials – papers, articles, journals – because they’re still the leading ones in this field. So, a lot of teachers let us write our homework in English, which is quite friendly towards the international students. 

Tsinghua isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to make a well-informed decision.


You spoke about your friends. How often do you connect, and how have you been supporting each other through this new phase of your lives?

Yes, we’re still in touch, and we still hang out when we have time. Honestly, we don't talk much when the semester starts because everyone is busy with their own work, but we still meet during summer and winter vacations and hang out and laugh at each other about stuff we've been through.

Because we went to very different places, these relationships are quite valuable. I stayed in Beijing while my friends went to the UK and the US. It doesn't matter where you go or what you've been through. We'll always be able to come together and still talk about the same things we did before. It’s nice to catch up with friends.


What is the most exciting thing that's happening to you at Tsinghua now?

The annual student showcase night that I directed with my other friends that's is one of the big events at our School of Social Sciences. That's quite exciting because it's valued by the teachers here as well as the students. We started preparing for this at the start of the semester, and it's always very rewarding to be able to pull off something like this that takes months to prepare.

Any advice for DCB students?

To all the students, especially to the IB students graduating soon: always, always put your physical and mental health first. It is so important.

People here, people around me and around the world don't do that often enough. As someone studying Psychology and seeing quite a lot of problems with mental health or physical health, I’ve seen many people around me with these problems. Put your personal well-being before academics and extracurriculars. If you’re not healthy, then there's no point in doing anything else.

Michael in Xinjiang / on a hiking trip Michael in Xinjiang / on a hiking trip
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At Dulwich College International, we aim to foster lifelong relationships with our alumni, also known as International Old Alleynians (IOAs). The Worldwise Alumni Network (WAN) is a powerful professional and social community for IOAs to forge and maintain lasting bonds and a powerful professional and social platform for alumni and current students to be Together, Anywhere.

Learn more about it: Alumni and Networking