Erika Xu '25 - Introduction

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Photo of Erika Xu
Hello! Welcome to my blog! My name is Erika (she/her), and I am currently a rising Sophomore at Amherst. I am a prospective Sociology and Asian Languages & Civilization major. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. As you can imagine, the shift from a big city to a suburban/rural college town was a drastic change, and I will share parts of that journey in my blogs.

On campus, I am involved in hosting community service opportunities that engage Amherst students and the larger community with the Rotaract Club, learning more about Chinese culture and celebrating cultural holidays with others with the Chinese Student Association, and connecting with other first-generation low-income (FLI) students at the Class Access and Resource Center.

Most of the time, you can find me frantically writing essays on the first floor of Frost Library, napping on the comfy couches in the science center, admiring the mineral collection in Beneski, going for a run on the bike trail, or rushing back to my dorm to finish my laundry. And if you do see me, say hi!

I invite you all to follow my journey as I share highlights and experiences during my time at Amherst. If you have any questions about being a sociology or ASLC major, being a student of color, being a FLI student at Amherst, or anything about college in general, please don’t hesitate to email me at exu25@amherst.edu.

Space Highlights: My Favorite Asian Restaurants

Starting college not only meant that I had to leave home, but it also meant leaving behind the flavors associated with home. Before arriving at Amherst, I thought the town would be composed of the typical restaurants you would find in the suburbs, like American bistros, brunch cafés, and plenty of fusion restaurants. To my surprise, in addition to the expected restaurants, Downtown Amherst also had a variety of authentic Asian restaurants that specialize in different Asian cuisines. Through the flavorful dishes from these restaurants, I was able to have a taste of home even from thousands of miles away. And I would like to share some of my favorite Asian restaurants here at Amherst:

5. Oriental Flavor. Oriental Flavor is an excellent Chinese restaurant right across from the Amherst Common. When I arrived for orientation, this was the first restaurant my family and I went to. And after a nice lunch, Oriental Flavor has gotten my mom's approval! They have rich, savory Chinese dishes that taste like dishes my mom would cook. The highlight of this place would be its dim sum! Oriental Flavor is the only restaurant with a variety of dim sum options, and some of my go-to orders would be the seafood xiu mai (烧卖), crystalized shrimp dumplings (虾饺), turnip cake (萝卜糕), and steamed pork buns (叉烧包).

4. Miss Saigon. Miss Saigon is one of the only Vietnamese restaurants in town. They serve a range of Vietnamese appetizers and entrees that give you a taste of different Vietnamese flavors. In addition to phở and bánh mì sandwiches, a recent favorite would be their crispy noodles covered in savory seafood gravy (mì xào giòn). The flavors of the sauce paired with the lightly fried noodles were immaculate. My only complaint about the food here is that it is not spicy enough! But requesting chili oil or adding extra sriracha is an option.

3. Arigato. Arigato is the best Japanese restaurant in town. This restaurant strongly emphasizes fresh, handmade sushi and other Japanese and Korean dishes. My favorite sushi rolls include the classic salmon roll, eel and avocado roll, the Bacon Crunch Roll, and the UMass Roll (the Amherst Roll is not as good, trust me). The quality of the fish is very fresh! And as soon as you take a bite, the fish melts in your mouth! Going to this restaurant will get you addicted to the umami flavors of fresh sushi. Arigato is a great place to have celebratory dinners with friends, go on a date, or enjoy some delicious sushi.

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Erika eating liang pi cold noodles

2. Lili's. Lili's is a small restaurant that specializes in authentic Xi'an cuisine. With a smaller menu, they honestly guarantee that every dish is well-made. Their signature dish is their homemade hand-pulled noodles topped with stewed pork (手拉面). The savory yet subtle dish will make you appreciate the simplicity of fresh, chewy noodles. My favorite dish at Lili's would be the liang pi cold noodles (凉皮). The refreshing cold noodles are perfect for the summer, and the addicting vinegary spiciness of these noodles draws me back every time. Also, Lili's has the best scallion pancakes (葱油饼) in town, no cap.

1. Formosa. Formosa has to be my favorite restaurant in town! Formosa is a charming restaurant that specializes in Taiwanese cuisine. Every dish made is fresh and served hot! My friends and I frequently go to Formosa for lunch because this restaurant has a great lunch special offering affordable meals for college students. Some favorites of mine and my friends are the crispy General Tso's chicken (左宗鸡), the garlic broccoli (鱼香芥兰), and the hot and sour soup (酸辣汤).

Since coming to college, I really appreciate the variety of Asian cuisine and flavors I've tasted. Moreover, I love the representation of these different flavors and cultures that have become part of the Amherst community's livelihoods and have created a more diverse space for everyone. Within the next three years, I look forward to eating more dishes from these restaurants and sharing them with others.

Holidays at Amherst: Thanksgiving Edition

For Thanksgiving, Amherst students typically have a week off to celebrate the holiday and take a break from schoolwork. And many students do take advantage of this week to go home and spend time with family. Yet, due to the rising cost of plane tickets, I couldn’t afford to take a trip back home. So, as my peers were booking their flights and Amtrak tickets home, I decided to stay on campus. And it’s not uncommon for students to stay on campus during breaks. Many international students and others opt to stay for one reason or another.

Surprisingly, there was still a strong student presence on campus during Thanksgiving week. Moreover, many of the resource centers – primarily the Center for International Student Engagement (CISE), working in conjunction with the other centers – hosted a series of activities for those staying on campus. One of my favorite activities I partook in was going to Montague Bookmill, a charming bookstore just out of Amherst. This was a fun trip and an incredible opportunity to visit the local areas around Amherst. Montague Bookmill is a fantastic place if you ever want to peruse through shelves upon shelves of books. In addition, the food at the Lady Killing Cafe was so tasty and homey. And I couldn’t help but be captivated by the balcony view overlooking the Saw Mill River running through the book mill – it definitely added to the quaint atmosphere of the location.

Another highlight of spending the holiday week at Amherst was attending the Thanksgiving Dinner at Boltwood Inn. Students on campus are invited to join senior administrators for a Thanksgiving dinner at the inn. This was a lovely evening where I got to meet other students that were also staying on campus. And we all got to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal catered by the inn! My favorite dishes from the night included the butternut squash bisque, the Stonewood farm turkey, the maple glazed duck breast, and the blueberry pie. This was hands down one of the best Thanksgiving meals I ever had! And if anyone ever stays on campus for Thanksgiving, I highly recommend coming to this pleasant event!

And of course, with a long break, I couldn’t miss the chance to go to Boston. After a ~2-hour Peter Pan bus ride, I arrived at the capital of Massachusetts. I had a wonderful time exploring the city and admiring the historical buildings along the Freedom Trail. I spent time catching up with friends over dim sum, buying a variety of Asian snacks I missed from home, and visiting notable sites in the area. I have to say, Boston is beautiful! I look forward to future visits and eating more dim sum.

Although I didn’t go home for the Thanksgiving break, I really enjoyed my time at Amherst and staying connected with the Amherst community during the holiday. And staying on campus was also a great way to soak in the last of the vibrant fall season before the cold winter ensued.

From City to Amherst: Takeaways From My First Year

Moving away to college and traveling across the country was a daunting experience. Leaving meant I had to let go of the comfort and familiarity of home and restart in a new place. The first month at Amherst was very challenging; I was homesick and lost. It took a while, but eventually I found my ground. Now that my first year has ended, I would like to share, in no particular order, some of the biggest takeaways from my first year:

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    Erika at FallFest 2021
    Attend the festivals.
    Amherst hosts a variety of festivals and events throughout the year. These events serve as a time for students and professors to take a break from school work and have fun. My favorite festivals include FallFest, FarmFest, and the City Streets Festival. Within these festivals, there is always a combination of carnival games, cider donuts, live music, seasonal decorations, free food, and a good time. Attending these festivals was a great way for me to meet new people, interact with the larger Amherst community, and appreciate the beauty in each season. I have lovely memories of attending all of these events, and I still look forward to the upcoming festivals next fall.
  2. Reach out. When I first stepped within the Amherst bubble, I realized how many amazing people, brilliant professors, and resources were at my disposal. The only barrier between myself and the Amherst community was me. So, I challenged myself to make an effort to get to know those around me. By actively reaching out to other students, professors, and resource centers, I slowly found a space for myself at Amherst. Connecting with students from similar backgrounds was how I found "my people" – people I can lean on and trust. Reaching out to the resources centers definitely also played a significant role in grounding myself within Amherst. I believe that having spaces to support students of diverse backgrounds, like the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) and Class Access and Resource Center (CARC), provide a safe space for students of color and those with other intersecting identities. Going to these resource centers and talking to students and faculty was always a highlight of my day, and this really helped me feel more secure on campus.
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    Erika at the Brooklyn Bridge
    Travel.
    In my experience, leaving the small community of Amherst and traveling to larger cities, like Boston and New York, is something I always look forward to. Leaving the big city and coming to a small town for college, I missed the hustling and bustling atmosphere of Los Angeles. Luckily, Boston and New York are only a short Peter Pan bus ride away. So, on long weekends, I would take the Peter Pan to go into the city and explore. It's nice to escape Amherst for a while and reconnect with the city life.
  4. Stay connected with home. Despite being thousands of miles away, I wanted to continue to stay in touch with those from home. I would call home to talk to family, FaceTime my hometown friends, and even send email updates to my high school teachers. Staying connected to my home kept me grounded while I was still trying to figure out what college meant to me. Sharing and reflecting on my college experiences afforded me room to take a step back and appreciate my personal growth in a new environment. This process was vital to me eventually being able to call Amherst my new home.
  5. Lean into your experiences. Throughout the entirety of my first year, I was always willing to try new things. Being in college allowed me to challenge myself and give myself space to explore. I was in charge of shaping my college experience and I had to constantly remind myself to step out of my comfort zone. By doing so, I made life-long friends, became a part of clubs I didn't think I would've joined, and found my community on campus. I look forward to doing much more in the upcoming semesters and always being hungry for new experiences.

Although what I shared encompasses the main takeaways of the year, it is only a small summary. I can't express how vibrant and wonderful my first year was. And I would like to thank everyone who has made my time at Amherst special.