When Ka Ki “Kay” Tse moved from Hong Kong to the United States with her family in 2012, it was because her parents wanted her and her brother to have a better life. She thought that meant growing up to become a doctor or a lawyer. What she found was that it meant finding her passion and a greater purpose through doing something she loves.
Along the way, the Cranston resident made countless connections with professors, students and fellow travelers who pushed her to learn more about herself.
But as a freshman on the University of Rhode Island campus with only a few years of English under her belt, Kay was less than secure in her English-language abilities and was uncomfortable making friends. Having always been active and someone who enjoys physical activity, Kay chose kinesiology as a major thinking that a career in physical therapy might be the right path for her. She dove into her studies and realized that in addition to the newfound freedom she discovered living on campus, there was also an immense amount of opportunity.
She also discovered that friendships were not as hard to come by as she thought. In addition to friends she met in her classes, she began working at the Fascitelli Fitness & Wellness Center and became involved on campus in groups like the URI Service Corps as an alternative spring break leader.
Internships, such as the one she did with the Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center at Miriam Hospital, and her work as a personal trainer broadened her perspective and moved her away from pursuing a career in physical therapy and more toward wanting to better understand what motivates people to be healthier. This interest in behavior change spurred her to pursue psychology as a double major. Private scholarship support from the Centreville Bank Charitable Foundation Scholarship, recognizing her academic achievement, contributed to her being able to focus on her studies and to excel.
Her interest in fitness and lifting weights pushed her even farther. As a member of the power lifting team her sophomore and junior years, Kay found a way to push herself beyond her limits.
“The training really taught me a lot about persistence. Even if you aren’t the strongest person on the starting line, if you work hard for what you want, you can achieve it – you just have to put the work in,” she says. “It made me mentally stronger and feel confident in what I can do.”
Her love of travel led her to Ghana and Togo with Operation Groundswell the summer following her sophomore year, and to backpack solo through Europe following her junior year where she stayed with host families and did odd jobs in exchange for room and board. Her work in Ghana assisting teachers in the classroom appealed to her. Likewise, her summer in Europe gave her time to do some soul searching, assess her experiences and think about what she really wanted to do.
“For a while I felt lost,” she said. “I thought I needed to have everything all figured out and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”
It was her love of the classroom and her relationships with professors like Christie Ward-Ritacco and Deborah Riebe that brought her back.
“They took the time to know me. They care about their students and have always encouraged and supported me – and opened my eyes to new opportunities. I want to be that person for someone else. When students feel lost, I want to be the person who listens and helps them find their way.”
Upon returning from her trip to Europe, she began applying to graduate schools. In the fall she will be attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to obtain her master’s degree in health and exercise science. She hopes to become a professor.
“I’m thankful for my experience at URI. For the teachers I’ve had, for the friendships I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve been offered. I thought I would come to school and mainly focus on academics, but I’ve learned so much about myself.”
She’s not lost anymore.