Small Cities

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Written by Mikel Prater

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Yantai is a small city of 7 million people. If you ask Danny about it, that’s what he’ll tell you: it’s small. He’ll tell you more about it, speaking in statistics and slogans you get the feeling he’s heard somewhere else. He’ll tell you that it’s about an hour from Beijing if you fly, that 60% or so of the population has family in Japan and Korea, that children are sent there for international schools. People vacation there; it’s on the ocean. Keep asking, and he’ll tell you that it reminds him of San Francisco.

Tall, glasses, dressed in casually professional clothes, he fits right in with other second-year business majors at Miami. Danny, however, has travelled the world—and it’s apparent in any conversation or detail. Even his name—born Hongyuan Lin, Danny had an American host family in Tulsa who always called him “Danny Boy,” and the name stuck. Tulsa, Yantai, San Francisco, Beijing: most of Danny’s stories start with a city.

And if he sees the world in cities, it might be because of how many he’s lived in. He spent his middle school years in Singapore. He’ll tell you that Singapore was very small, that you could see the whole country in two days. He’ll tell you it’s much hotter than Yantai—probably the hottest place he’s lived. He was surrounded by other Chinese students there, and he’ll tell you that it still reminded him of Yantai, and that both places have beaches to visit.

For high school, he began in Boston. Boston’s like New York, he’ll tell you, because it was freezing (even more than Yantai, which has bitterly cold winters). But outside of the winter, he thought, the weather was mostly the same as Yantai, and he didn’t mind living there.

At the suggestion of a professor in China, he went to a new school for his last two years of high school, this time in Tulsa. Tulsa wasn’t hot like Singapore or cold like Boston; there were no beaches like in Yantai; it even had tornadoes, which he’d never seen in Boston. Once, he and some other students were in a study group for an AP exam, and they heard the tornado sirens go off. They chose to keep studying calculus, even though he swears they even saw the tornado through the windows. He laughs that they all loved studying more than they wanted to find safety.

His love for school gives some credit, then, when he talks about this high school, which he proudly describes as a high school for future business leaders. He describes it almost as if he’s selling it to you, but then, that’s how he describes almost everywhere he’s lived; as if it’s his earnest and enthusiastic duty to convince you to move there. Yantai is a cultural hub, Boston has interesting weather, New York is filled with places to go and things to do, Singapore is a beautiful and intimate island, Oklahoma has a fascinating culture and fantastic basketball teams.

When you ask him about Miami, he starts by smiling. He explains that an aunt in Cleveland had visited once and suggested it. He didn’t know much about it; he knew about the Farmer School of Business, and he’d seen autumnal pictures of campus on the website—Farmer, Cook Field, and Bell Tower in the changing colors of fall. In the winter of his senior year he made a point to visit.

His reasons for coming to Miami sound almost like a promotional brochure, or an enthusiastic campus tour guide. He liked Farmer, he liked the teachers, he liked the program, he liked the rec center and the dining halls and the students he met. “It really feels like a family,” he’ll say, straight from the posters and plaques hanging in Armstrong.

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If it sounds disingenuous, if you think maybe you’ve found the end of his enthusiasm, that you can get him to find some fault in the place he’s come to love, you can be corrected quickly. He’ll talk next about Oxford, and how small it is, and you’ll think, surely he misses thinking 7 million people made a small city. But instead he’ll explain that he likes walking to class, and that in a city he’d have to drive places. And sure, he’ll say, there’s not as much to do, but Oxford isn’t like Yantai, or San Francisco, or New York, or Boston, or Tulsa. There is more to Oxford for him than all of the restaurants and recreation found in a city, from his frequent jogs around the campus he first saw online, to the work he gets to do with Farmer School of Business, to the people of Oxford that he will only describe as friendly and helpful no matter how many times you ask.

If Danny misses Yantai, it’s only in brief speculation that he might go home when he graduates. If he dislikes Ohio weather, he doesn’t let on, just saying that Yantai had similarly hot summers and cold winters. If there’s anything at Miami he doesn’t like, he won’t mention it, instead telling you with a smile that he’s joined the CIA—a Chinese student organization on campus. He doesn’t know where he’ll go once he leaves Oxford, just that one day he will; but now, he’ll have Oxford for comparison as well.

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