When Daniel Tsay’s father encouraged him to leave South Africa to attend college in the United States, he wanted his son to learn discipline.
He also wanted his son to discover himself.
The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets gave Tsay the opportunity to do both, and it set him on a much different path than he expected.
“Compared with my friends back in South Africa and what they’re doing at university, I’m experiencing a whole other version of growing up,” said Tsay, a senior from Johannesburg, South Africa, who’s majoring in mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering.
Tsay is a citizen of South Africa and of Taiwanese descent. His parents moved from Taiwan to South Africa to go into business and begin a family in a diverse, economically developing country.
South African culture is laid back and open-minded, Tsay said, and as a teenager he embraced that outlook on life. His father, who attended graduate school in the United States, wanted him to have a greater sense of self-discipline and thought a military program could offer his son a well-rounded education.
Tsay applied to five of the six senior military colleges in the United States, including Virginia Tech. In the end, Virginia Tech and the Corps of Cadets was the best fit. It offered a top-notch engineering program, a warmer climate similar to that of South Africa, and a strong sense of community, he said.
He arrived in Blacksburg in August 2013. It was his first time in the United States.
While other first-year cadets were adapting to the corps’ military-style rigor, Tsay also had to adjust to American culture and learn to deal with a lot of personalities.
He adapted well and found an avenue to excel in the Citizen-Leader Track, which offers leadership training to students who aren’t seeking a military career.
Tsay said he found an immediate sense of camaraderie — both among his corps classmates and the upperclass students who trained them. The relationship was both professional and personal, something Tsay strives to emulate now.
“I knew that whenever I would reach out to them, they would be there for me,” he said.
Today Tsay is one of about 1,540 international undergraduate students studying at Virginia Tech.
The Council of International Student Organizations and Cranwell International Center are celebrating International Week @ Virginia Tech Nov. 14-18, which coincides with the nationally recognized International Education Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.
International Week @ VT is an opportunity to showcase the university’s growing global diversity and commitment to internationalization.
As his father wanted, Tsay has learned discipline. But more importantly, the diversity he has experienced both in the corps and on campus led him to discover who he is as a person.
He said he enjoys mechanical engineering — the team work, the critical thinking, and the design projects.
But his true passion is working with people and he’s good at it; his leadership style is communicative and collaborative. Because of that, he’s considering a career outside engineering, either going back to South Africa to work in the family business or pursing opportunities in the United States Army and the potential path to citizenship.