Dieyun “April” Song ’15 has traveled much farther than the 7,000 miles from her native Beijing since coming to University of Lynchburg in the fall of 2011.
It’s hard to believe that a student who ranked shopping among her favorite pastimes has since slept outside half the month of November so she could begin to understand homelessness. Now she doesn’t even see that effort as particularly heroic.
“I’m warm,” she said, “not like the real homeless. I’m lucky I have a real house; I have a real bed. I just can’t imagine the feeling of ‘now it’s dark, but now I have nowhere to go.’”
April was one of two dozen LC students who braved the elements during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, but one of only two who chose to sleep out longer. (The other was Peter Berry ’14, a business administration major from Charlottesville, Virginia).
April readily acknowledges that she came from a privileged household, but thanks to her participation in the Bonner Leaders Program, she has come to know the reasons for poverty and homelessness. “It gives a deeper understanding of the poverty issue,” she said, adding that she can no longer assume people are poor because they are lazy.
Sleeping out in the cold to raise money for the homeless is only one of April’s missions. During Thanksgiving break, she made her sixth trip to Barren Springs, Virginia, a poor community in the southwestern part of the state that has become a partner with LC’s Bonner Leaders Program. April has done everything from hanging a gate to chasing cows to helping stuff backpacks with food for students who would otherwise be hungry on the weekends.
“My trip to Barren Springs was joyful as always,” April said. “I helped with farm works and the school. I spent more time with Pre-K this time and it was so much fun. I love, love, love the kids and they are just so precious.”
“It’s really home,” April said of Barren Springs. “It’s really community. I never felt that before. To have somewhere to belong is a very good feeling.”
Despite her sudden immersion into a new culture, April has also excelled academically, being named to the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society her freshman year. The management major is also president of Circle K International, a member of the Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority, and sings in the LC Concert Choir. She hopes to add a double major in economic crime prevention and a minor in music.
April learned about University of Lynchburg when she met Rita Detwiler, LC’s vice president for enrollment management, who traveled to China in spring 2011 on a recruitment tour with “Colleges That Change Lives.”
Detwiler and April immediately connected, and April was intrigued with the idea of a small college that offered all the things she was interested in — special education, business, and communication studies. Though she had never been to the United States, April had traveled throughout Asia and Europe so she was used to a variety places and cultures. She said adjusting to Lynchburg was not a shock, despite the leap from Beijing, a city of 22 million people, to the Hill City’s 75,000.
When April first arrived at LC, she was a little worried about her language skills and zeroing on a major. “I’m happy I have four years here to learn the things I like,” she had said. She’s well on her way.