University of Southern California

Xinling Song
Title
Feeling at Home
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Graduating Year
2011
Undergrad Institution
Renmin University of China
Hometown
Northeastern China

Universal language of accounting

Xinling Song’s interest in accounting took root at an impressionable age. “My family owns a company, and I saw my mom doing the books when I was very little,” she recalls. “I learned to love it.” Her devotion blossomed when she majored in accounting as an undergraduate in her native China.

Now that Xinling has achieved her Master of Accounting degree from the USC Leventhal School, her interest has matured into a focus on auditing. “I’m kind of a skeptical person,” she says, “and very careful. Auditing is about checking financial statements to see if everything is in line with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. That’s a good job for me.”

When she decided to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S., Xinling was attracted to USC because of the high rankings and strong faculty and students. “And I love the weather here,” she says. “I heard there was a lot of sunshine in Southern California and I didn’t want to miss it.”

Culture shift

Although you would never know it from her English, Xinling felt her biggest challenge in moving to the U.S. was the language difference from her native Mandarin dialect. “I don’t feel very comfortable not speaking my mother tongue, and this was my first time out of China,” she admits. “At first I felt awkward, but the people here are nice and very patient.”

Xinling adjusted quickly, with help from the summer intensive program for international students and non-accounting majors that precedes the academic-year program. But she soon discovered a major cultural distinction between U.S. classrooms and those in her homeland. “Chinese professors and American professors have very different teaching methods. Back in China, we listened, took notes, did the homework, took the exam—and that was it. Here, the professors really want us to participate and contribute to the class.”

Being used to the Chinese educational model at first made Xinling reluctant to put her hand up. “I thought my question might waste other people’s time,” she says. Fortunately, a classmate disabused her of that notion. “He taught me that you are entitled to ask questions in class, and he really encouraged me to participate.”

Xinling prefers the American way of education, especially as practiced at USC. “It’s a very good way to learn things. And I enjoy hearing other people’s questions, because I can learn from them.”

Multicultural Los Angeles

One change Xinling found easy to make was adjusting to Los Angeles’ cosmopolitan atmosphere. “I think L.A. is a very good place for international students, because people here come from all over the world. The local people help you a lot.”

She and her friends visit the San Gabriel Valley for a taste of home. “The area has a lot of plazas and Chinese restaurants, with Chinese characters. When I first went there, I just thought, ‘Wow, where am I? Am I in China?’”

On campus, Xinling relaxed by learning jive and samba through the dance classes offered in USC’s Physical Education building. “I think I’ll come back, even after graduation,” she says.

Thorough preparation

Xinling cites Robert Roussey’s Professional Accounting: Theory, Research and Policy as her favorite class. “He’s a fantastic professor,” she says. “He gave us really tough cases, and we worked in groups to solve them. We couldn’t get that knowledge from a book, because there was no book to look to. He also taught us to do the research for the accounting codification, which was very new to me. We learned not only the knowledge itself, but also how to solve the problem.”

Another course she found invaluable was John Owens’ auditing class. “Although I learned auditing in China, it didn’t make much sense to me before I took Professor Owens’ class. Because he is a partner at KPMG, he could share hands-on experience. It opened my eyes.”