This story is one of a series of profiles of 2012 graduates. See all senior profiles for this year here.
Jacqueline Thong, who has been president of the General Studies Student Council for two years, arrived at Columbia a classically trained ballet dancer. She had begun taking dance classes at the age of five, and she eventually danced with a contemporary ballet company, traveling to countries including Australia, China, and Singapore.
“My mom was a dance teacher, so ever since I was young I was surrounded by dancing and studios,” Thong said.
Thong was born and raised in Ipoh, a small town in Malaysia, and she initially struggled to adapt to American culture.
“I didn’t understand any of the cultural references or the sports references,” she said. “I didn’t know which team belonged to which city, and that was challenging as an international student.”
Thong said that despite New York City’s fast pace and high cost of living, there is something transformative about the city—you can try new things and go to fancy parties, she said, but you can also “take a stroll in the park and lie on the lawns at Columbia and read a book.”
Before coming to GS in 2008, Thong spent two years dancing in Montreal, where she met her future fiance, Chris, a graduate of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She made a deal with him—if he would walk her through the application process for GS, she would reward him with a dinner date.
“Chris encouraged me to come to school,” she said.
Thong took a few dance classes at Columbia, and she was a member of the ballroom dance team her first semester, but she didn’t pursue dancing because of an injury that prevented her from dancing the way she had before. She is majoring in sustainable development, a topic she became interested in after learning about the development of Third World countries in a class with economics professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin.
“I tried out so many different things—economics to art history, even architecture—and then one day, it just came to me,” she said. “Columbia just offered sustainable development [as a major] two years ago, so it just appeared, and I knew that was what I wanted to study.”
Thong served as computer program coordinator for adult education at Community Impact during her first two years at GS, but she spent all four years as a member of GSSC.
Michael Rain, who was GSSC’s vice president of policy when Thong got to Columbia, suggested that she join the council after she voiced concerns about the American Language Program. She was GSSC’s international students representative during her first year and vice president of finance during her sophomore year.
Thong said that as GSSC president, she tried to connect GS students to one another, while also helping GS students become more connected to the overall University. She cited the other undergraduate student councils’ support during the recent rescheduling of GS Class Day as a sign of improved cross-school relationships.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve come ever since I’ve joined GSSC,” she said. “We’re taking little steps, but I think every year we’re building on something else. One day we will get to a much more integrated community on campus.”
After graduation, Thong will continue working with a few friends on an entrepreneurship venture called Advisoray, an online platform that connects users with experts in different fields around the world. The group, which is working out of Thong’s apartment in the Financial District, launched the venture a few weeks ago.
“We’ve been working on it for a few months, especially the development phase,” Thong said. “The beta version of the site is already live and we have real users testing it right now. I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I’m excited.”