Campus & Community

Hometown girl makes (and does) good

4 min read

Marianna Tu didn’t intend to go to college in her hometown. That town just happened to be Cambridge, Mass., and the college was Harvard.

But despite staying local for college, Tu is not a homebody. She has spent every summer since enrolling traveling to far-flung places to teach and do volunteer work.

During the summers following her freshman and sophomore years, Tu taught English in rural villages in China, first as a volunteer and then as a program director with a group called Learning Enterprises. As a junior, Tu, a Quincy House resident and English concentrator, studied abroad in Yuman province in southwest China during the fall term. Following her junior year, she traveled to North India on a fellowship from the Office of Career Services to McLeod Ganj, a town just outside of Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government is in exile.

“That was the agreement that I made with myself,” said Tu. “I decided that I could go to school in my hometown, if I would go abroad every summer.”

Now, after graduating, Tu will return to China for the summer to work, before moving to New York City to join a philanthropic consulting firm.

Tu not only grew up in Cambridge, but her father is a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — Wei-Ming Tu, who is Harvard Yenching Professor of Chinese History and Philosophy and of Confucian Studies. And yet, she hadn’t planned to come to Harvard — she wanted to blaze her own trail. Similarly, despite her Chinese heritage, she didn’t envision spending extensive time in China.

Harvard and China, although located on opposite sides of the globe, were too close to home.

Traveling to rural China after her freshman year was eye-opening. Throughout her many return trips, Tu has become passionate about the country, and about the social injustices and health problems faced by its population, particularly children.

“I saw a lot of urban and rural inequalities,” said Tu. “[They] are very different worlds, rural China and urban China. They’re interesting in different ways. You see a missing generation in rural China, you see older people and small children — but you don’t see people in the middle because they have to go away to work. I am interested in demographics in China, how family structure is impacted by government policy.”

Tu now appreciates her decision to attend college in her hometown.

“It is amazing that you can go and have an international experience, and then you can come back to Harvard, and there will be a million threads for you to pick up,” said Tu.

At Harvard, Tu has also been active with Harvard China Care, a student-run organization that works with orphanages in China, as well as Chinese children who are adopted in the United States. Locally, Harvard China Care volunteers, who are mostly Chinese American, serve as mentors and role models for Chinese children adopted by Caucasian families in the United States. The group also sends Harvard students to work at orphanages in China.

Tu began working with the group as a mentor, and she went on to serve as co-chair of the medical committee, where she planned events to raise awareness on campus of China’s current health challenges.

Tu first became involved with Harvard China Care when she attended a documentary screening about AIDS orphans in China, victims of unsanitary blood transfusion practices. Later, through her work with Harvard China Care, Tu became involved with the nongovernmental organization Pediatric AIDS Treatment Support (PATS), a group that works directly with children who have been infected with HIV. This summer, Tu will work with PATS in Anhui, China, and will also teach at a camp.

In the fall, Tu will work with a philanthropic consulting group based in New York to develop fundraising strategy for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian relief organization that works with children. Tu was connected with the firm, called Changing Our World, through Harvard’s Center for Public Interest Careers.

Broadly, Tu is interested in social enterprise, although she admits that she is not sure exactly what that means.

“Social enterprise, social justice work, private partnerships are all something that I am interested in. However, no one has explained to me what social enterprise actually means,” said Tu. “My work with Changing Our World relates to the fact that I have been looking for interesting different ways to explore what’s most meaningful.

“I want to help make connections between people so that they can find a fulfilling and joyful way to attack social problems,” said Tu.