In early January 1994, after a series of flights from Malaysia, Ni Ni “Annie” Lim arrived in Lincoln with freezing temperatures, blistering winds and a grieving university.
A few days earlier, the Husker football team had lost its first and only game of the season, an 18-16 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. With him, the chance to win Tom Osborne’s first national title and the program’s first since 1971.
In December 1995, fresh out of a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Annie was about to leave a university on the verge of the festivities. A few days later, the Football Husker would claim its second consecutive national title, eliminating eighty-six lingering ghosts from past gridirons by obliterating Florida 62-24.
Before returning to Malaysia, however, Annie made the fateful decision to accept a challenge from a fellow Malaysian she had met during her time as Husker: My brother at home is old. To my knowledge, there is no one. I dare you to go meet this guy.
This guy? Hock Aun Goh – future father of Jun Yi Goh, now a double major in history and world studies who on May 14 will officially join his mother and two uncles as alumni of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Somehow, without ONEI wouldn’t be here,” second-generation Husker said before smiling and laughing.
Goh grew up in the suburbs of Malaysia’s fourth largest city, George Town, which was settled by the Japanese-occupied British East India Company during the World War. IIthen salvaged by the British before gaining independence in 1957. Even as a child, raised 9,000 miles from Lincoln, Goh knew the Husker brand.
“One of the first things I remember about the United States as a country is that in the United States there is this state called Nebraska, and that state plays good football,” said he declared.
But many Malaysians who seek to attend university, Goh said, end up doing so in the UK and Australia. Goh had set his sights on the former, especially given his interest in the history of colonialism. That was until Annie, a higher education administrator, received an email saying her son was eligible for a scholarship to Nebraska. So, with his mother by his side, Goh hopped on a plane to Cornhusker State in August 2018.
The weather was much warmer than Annie had first encountered in 1994. The football team was much worse. But the same foster family that had taken her in 24 years earlier – one of many then attending the former Lincoln Friends of Foreign Students – was there again to pick her and her son up from the airport.
“I stayed with them for the first few days,” Goh recalled. “Basically, I had someone to lean on if I needed help with anything during my first year here. It was huge.
“I am still in contact with them. We still talk and I try to visit them as often as possible.
Despite the support, Goh said he spent most of his first semester “pretty much sequestered in my dorm” — Selleck Hall, where his mother once stayed. A student club that met every Friday to play board games was one of the few reasons he found to go out. One random October weekend morning gave him another: the chance to experience snow for the first time.
“I was in pajamas,” he says. “I actually ran outside, in shorts, just to touch it before going inside, just because I had never seen snow, never touched snow.
“I went to Selleck’s yard with the sand volleyball court. I made a little snowman, I made snowballs, just to see what it was.
Over time, familiarity and common interests began to erode his shell. In the spring of 2019, Goh traveled to New York as part of a Husker contingent participating in a national model UN conference. During his freshman year, he joined the Malaysian Student Association, helping to keep the group united and active during the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic. He did an internship with ESL programs and spent two semesters with the university’s international welcome team, picking up students from the airport, checking them into accommodation – anything to ease a smooth transition. whose potholes he knew well.
Then came a stint at the International Office for Students and Scholars, where he coordinated Friday night events—eating out, going to a baseball game, seeing a movie—which often attracted several dozen students seeking to acclimatize and to make friends.
He wasn’t really slack in class either. Goh was one of 82 Husker undergraduates recently announced as Chancellor’s Scholar, after earning a 4.0 GPA every semester.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jun. He’s been a pleasure working with him since the day he walked on campus,” said Ann Tschetter, Goh’s advisor and associate professor of practice in story. “Jun came to my office during his first week, introduced himself, and gave me a small gift from his country.”
While preparing for his degree in global studies, Goh learned a fifth language – Japanese – to go along with Malay, English, Mandarin and Hokkien. And he credited the global studies program with broadening the scope of his view of history. But her first love was also her first major.
“I have a passion for history,” he says. “I aspire to tell stories that have either gone untold or been buried.”
So when Tschetter encouraged his adviser to write an undergraduate thesis, Goh chose a story he was as qualified as anyone to tell and as dedicated as anyone to uncover: the story of the international undergraduate experience. in Nebraska from 1948 to the present day.
His 44-page, 163-citing dissertation traces the evolution of university administration infrastructure, policies and supports for international students – as well as how students themselves and their surrounding community have filled the gaps. left by the administration. Goh has traced the origins of Nebraska’s international students over the decades: an influx of Nigerian students from the 1960s through the 1980s; the influx of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian undergraduates beginning in the 1990s; a recent increase in the number of Rwandan students. To better understand the presence and importance of these international contingents, he consulted the files of student organizations recognized by nationality which came to supplant the “big tent” organizations which preceded it.
“It’s very difficult to say that (one) person’s experience represents the 60s or represents the 70s, because everyone has a different experience,” he said. “The closest thing I can do is to trace changes across organizations. The logic is that organizations stay alive because people care, and if people care, that’s (indicative of) how they feel about themselves.
Goh’s thesis also identifies three interrelated challenges facing international undergraduate students past and present: housing, financial instability, and discrimination. Before and after the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, international students faced discriminatory practices from landlords and some Greek houses. The devaluation of the pound sterling in 1949, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the Great Recession of 2008 disproportionately affected international students, especially the many subject to expulsion for falling behind on bills. Overt and covert racism has persisted, peaking after 9/11 and amid the recent rise in xenophobic rhetoric across the country.
“As far as issues go, some things have changed,” Goh said. “It’s definitely gotten better. People here are now better informed. The discrimination isn’t as blatant now, but there are still instances.
During all the months he spent poring over documents in the ONE Library Archives and Special Collections, through decades-old clips from the Daily Nebraskan and the Lincoln Journal Star, Goh said the thesis is not a definitive history of international students in Nebraska.
“But I like to see this as the start of some kind of conversation, or maybe a starting point for further research on international students on campus,” he said. “One thing I know for sure: it’s the only document where you can get a single source on the history of international students on campus. The information I use is all public; I just pieced it together consistently.
The experience also prepared him to write another thesis – this time, while preparing for a master’s degree in history that he will pursue in Nebraska.
“I’ve really come to believe,” Goh said, “that Nebraska is the good life.”
And he said he would continue to ‘drink the proverbial Kool-Aid’ as he puts down roots in Husker football to add some extra memories to the bank he started filling as a child in Malaysia. . His favorite as a student? A 56-7 win over Northwestern – a day the Huskers turned into the Big Red Machine who has already rumbled twice as his mother charted a 9,000 mile scarlet and cream path that her son would come to follow.
“I care a lot about Husker sports,” he said. “It’s a very Nebraska thing to do, I guess.”