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Northwest Missouri State University


Alumni Spotlight

    June 6, 2016

    International alumni draw inspiration from ‘Friends’ program, take flavor of Northwest to China

    By Alexandra Mortallaro, media relations assistant

    Northwest alumni Leia Li and Gao Hang opened the Neighborhood Bar and Grill restaurant in their native China. Li drew motivation and inspiration to open the restaurant through her Northwest education and mentorship through the University’s Friends of International Students. (Submitted photos)

    Northwest alumni Leia Li and Gao Hang (below) recently opened the Neighborhood Bar and Grill restaurant in their native China (above). Li drew motivation and inspiration to open the restaurant through her Northwest education and mentorship through the University’s Friends of International Students. (Submitted photos)

    Northwest alumni Leia Li and Gao Hang opened the Neighborhood Bar and Grill restaurant in their native China, drawing motivation and inspiration to open the restaurant through her Northwest education and mentorship through the University’s Friends of International Students. (Submitted photos)

    Northwest Missouri State University alumna Leia Li is a prime example of how the University’s Friends of International Students (FIS) program makes a lasting impact on international students long after their time in Maryville.

    Li earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Northwest in 2014 and opened a restaurant, called Neighborhood Bar and Grill when she returned to China. Her husband, Gao Hang, also is a Northwest graduate, receiving a Master of Business Administration degree. The couple displays the Bearcat logo proudly on the restaurant building.

    Li was paired with local residents Barry and Zola Steinman as part of Northwest’s FIS program and they helped her reach her goal or opening a restaurant.

    “Zola and Barry are my grandparents in the United States,” Li said. “Zola taught me how to cook a lot of things. I miss them and the time spent in Maryville.”

    Li shared her dream of wanting to own a restaurant during one of many visits to the Steinman’s home.

    “We would go out in my garden and pick things and she’d come in and fix it,” Zola said. “She was a wonderful cook and she finally got her wish.”

    As a Northwest student, Li found a love for American foods such as steaks and hamburgers, which she now offers at her restaurant in China.

    “Northwest gave me lots of help to pursue my dream,” she said. “I have a lot of friends from Northwest who live in Maryville and helped me learn how to manage on my own, which has helped me make decision boldly and decisively.”

    Li also attributes much of her success to the education she gained at Northwest.

    “Before I started my business, I used information I learned in my marketing classes to analyze the business and location, and I also used the human resources knowledge to help me manage my employees,” she said.

    Friends of International Students matches Northwest students from outside the United States with local residents who offer support to the students as they adjust to their new home and promote friendship and understanding among people of different nationalities.

    Friends and students are encouraged to make contact at least once a month during their year-long commitment to the program. Friends and students can spend as much or as little time together as their schedules allow.

    The Steinmans have been involved with FIS for six years and remain passionate about the program.

    “We enjoy bringing students to our homes and explaining what it’s like to live in Missouri,” Zola said. “We just want to show them what rural life is really like. It’s kind of our way of promoting world peace, one by one.”

    She added, “I would encourage people to get involved if they’re interested in learning about other cultures. We keep in touch with our old students and still continue to get new ones.”

    Families or individuals interested in becoming a friend should complete an application by clicking here. For more information, contact Jeaneth Puriel, FIS president and coordinator of study abroad at Northwest, at FIS@nwmissouri.edu or call 660.562.1367.

    “The friendships that FIS produces between families and students are timeless and surpass distances,” Puriel said. “FIS successfully brings different groups of people together to learn from one another and enrich each other’s lives.

    “Personally, FIS has enriched my life and the life of my family. We have not only learned about the culture of our FIS students, but we have learned more about our own culture by trying to share our history and traditions with our FIS students.”


    For more information, please contact:

    Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
    mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

    Northwest Missouri State University
    215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468