International Clubs

Asia is a new hotbed of alumni involvement.

Anya Cheng (GJ08) wasn't going to let any trifling details stand in the way of her effort to revive the Northwestern Alumni Association's long-dormant Taiwan alumni club — not even the fact she wasn't an alumna yet. Or that she didn't happen to live in Taiwan.

In September 2008 Cheng was still president of Northwestern University's Taiwanese student club and had another three months left before completing her degree. Nevertheless, she traveled back to Taipei to host the NU Club of Taiwan's first alumni event in more than a decade.

Nearly two years later and with a Northwestern diploma in hand, she's more enthusiastic than ever about getting the club on its feet.

"Most people have been very passionate about it," says Cheng.

That passion is clearly shared by Cheng, who still lives and works in Chicago but eventually plans to return to her homeland. Her ever-expanding database of Taiwanese alumni now includes more than 400 names.

While the NAA has long had successful international clubs in places such as London and Toronto and Japan and Switzerland, the alumni club activity in Asia has seen rapid growth in recent years. New or previously dormant clubs have recently sprung up in Taiwan, Korea (Seoul, South Korea) and China (Shanghai).

The NAA assists leaders of new clubs in a variety of ways, including help with setting up web pages, coordinating communications and managing membership information.

Cheng and co-founder Jessie Mai (GJ08) started the Taiwan club because of its great potential as a career-advancement tool.

"First of all, of course, is networking," she says. "Our alumni are very accomplished. They play very important roles in both business and government organizations in Taiwan."

Case in point: Cheng says one candidate to take over as club president is Jye-Cherng Lyu (KSM89), Taiwan's former minister of finance.

In addition to networking, Cheng says, the club should also serve as a resource to help Taiwanese students through the college application process and prepare those admitted to Northwestern for the transition to the United States.

Yet challenges remain for Cheng and the leaders of the other new international clubs. Patrick J. Ryan (WCAS98), who served as president of the NU Club of London from 2007 to 2009, has a good idea of what they'll need to do.

"For new clubs, I think the key is to provide a stable schedule," Ryan says. "People like knowing that there are regular events going on and when they can take part, either monthly, as we've done, or quarterly."

Creating a stable schedule has thus far been elusive for Cheng - not surprising, considering she remains in the United States. Nearly two years after its inaugural event, the club is still establishing a foundation. Cheng is hopeful that elections will take place in June for a board that will handle the legwork of planning and hosting events, such as monthly happy hours. 

The club's second event occurred Jan. 2 when it participated in a Big Ten New Year's Party at Shangri-La's Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei. Of the 200 Big Ten alumni in attendance, about 50 were from Northwestern.

For a club that existed only as one student's vision a mere two years ago, that's not a bad start.

To find out more about international clubs or how to join a club near you, visit the Northwestern Alumni Association's Clubs page.