Daimei Li thought she would spend the rest of her life leading the cows her family used to work the rice paddies on their small farm in Longma, China. Now, she is valedictorian of Anne Arundel Community College’s Class of 2014 and ready to continue her studies for a career in accounting and finance.
Her journey to this point is one of persistence and challenges, with a little bit of kismet thrown into the mix. When an older sister went away to school, Daimei wanted to go, too, and so the two of them left home, living at the school. She recalls her mother’s only charge was to get good grades. When they finished their studies there, Daimei thought she’d return to her village, but she and her sister convinced their parents to allow them to attend a college in the city. This school was not like American colleges where she could earn a degree; instead, it offered three years of training toward a teaching certificate. That is where Daimei learned to teach English. She also learned the dialects from other villages and discovered she was good at languages.
“I love languages. When you can speak a person’s language, you can communicate and learn about each other,” she said.
The teaching certificate led to her teaching English to second graders in a private elementary school in the city. She loved the job and thought she would spend the rest of her life as a teacher. But this is where serendipity comes into play. A friend had responded to an online request from some American visitors to give them a tour of the city and she persuaded Daimei to go with her. Among those visitors was the man Daimei would marry – she just didn’t know it yet.
The young man, Bryce Hartman, claimed that for him, it was love at first sight and after touring with Daimei for three days, he asked her to be his girlfriend. At first she declined, thinking he’d forget her after he left town, but instead he started emailing her. She fell in love with him, too. They dated long distance for two years, with him visiting her twice. Her parents accepted him because he could speak Chinese, but when she told them she was moving to the United States to get married, her parents tried to discourage her, saying she really didn’t know him well enough, she didn’t know if she’d like America, it was just not a good idea.
“In China, you listen to your parents, but also if you fall in love, you listen to that, too,” she said.
She joined Bryce, a linguist stationed in Hawaii with the U.S. Air Force. At first, they were determined not to rush into marriage, but after a month, they decided to marry. Both were 24 years old. That was four years ago. They moved to this area when he was transferred and he also is in school working toward a master’s degree in cybersecurity. She realized she’d like to continue her education, too. In China, there are set paths for where and what students must study, but her husband said in America, she could choose. She chose AACC.
Once at AACC, she took started working toward her goal of becoming an accountant. But she also took advantage of opportunities to participate in school clubs, which opened other doors. For example, through her involvement with the International Students Association, advisor Bill P. Yuan, associate professor of business management, connected her with World Artists Experiences, a local organization that sponsors international arts groups. She now often attends Kennedy Center productions where she translates for visiting Chinese artists. She also was treasurer of the Student Association, a member of Phi Theta Kappa, joined the Honors program where she also was a student worker and tutored other students in math.
Her world is so different from how she thought it would be. While she misses her parents, she is glad she made the decision to take a chance on the unknown. Her next decision is easier, to choose where to continue her education. “It is good to have choices,” she said.