Students Adopted From Same Province Find Each Other At Augustana College

Aug 22, 2017

Mini-refrigerators, sleek shelving units, and even a pet fish were among the items moving in with incoming students at Augustana College last week before classes began on Monday. 

For some, this new beginning marks the start of what they hope will be lifelong friendships.  

Jessica Lange's mom is sad, to say the least.

"I'm going to miss her so much."

But there is one thing that's keeping Sandy Lange sane as she leaves her daughter for the first time in 18 years.

"I'm really excited that she found Elizabeth, I really am."

Elizabeth Alsup and Jessica Lange will share a dorm this year, and Sandy Lange isn't just happy that her daughter's roommate is a nice girl. She's relieved that they'll be able to confide in each other about something fairly intimate. 

"They're both adopted from China, both from the same province, so it's going to work out really well."

Jessica Lange (left) and Elizabeth Alsup (right) stand in their dormitory at Augustana College on move-in day, August 17, 2017.
Credit Mariah Woelfel/WVIK

"We were freaking out," Aslup said, referring to the moment her and Jessica Lange found out they were both adopted from the Chinese province of Hunan. "It was like one of those moments where you had to be there to understand our excitement." 

The girls linked up a few months back on the Facebook page for the Augustana College Class of 2021. 

"And I don't really remember how that subject came up but I do know it was one of the first things we talked about," Jessica Lange said before Alsup chimed in. 

"She was asking about orientation and we pick our classes during that. I was like 'I'm taking Chinese' and she was like 'Oh my god, I'm Chinese' and it was like back and forth 'me too, me too."

They were able to meet in person soon after because of another surprising connection - they actually grew up just 30 minutes away from each other, in neighboring Illinois towns.

"It's like one of those stories where you marry someone you grew up ten miles down the road from each other, except we're not going to get married," Alsup said. 

But they will live in close quarters -- the girls packed their 12-by-16 foot room with bags of clothes, a mini-fridge, microwave, a guitar and mini amplifier. 

And like hundreds of other students moving into Westerlan Hall in Rock Island, it was an emotional process for everyone involved. 

Karen Dahlstrom, Augustana College Director of Admissions, helps Elizabeth Alsup label her belongings on move-in day, August 17, 2017.
Credit Mariah Woelfel/WVIK

Lending a helping hand was Karen Dahlstrom, Associate Director of Admissions at Augustana.

"We work all year to recruit students, to tell Augustana's story, to encourage students to come to Augustana. So the day that they arrive is just awesome. I'm getting choked up just thinking about it."

Dahlstrom says Alsup and Lange belong to one of Augustana College's biggest, and perhaps most diverse, incoming classes. 

Students this year hail from 22 different countries, 24 states -- and 237 of them are the first in their family to attend college. 

The acclimation events of the past weekend--a convocation ceremony, activity fairs, small group exercises--are meant to help students develop a support system for the coming months of unfamiliarity before students send their families home.

"We call it the quick goodbye: they get 15 minutes with their child before heading out," Dahlstrom said. "They get a chance to meet with the student's first year advisor and some other things, but otherwise they head home and the students start their journey here at Augie."

Alsup's mom, Tracy Alsup, held back tears as she talked to me. She says she'll miss watching T.V. with her daughter, despite their differences. 

"She's a packers fan, I'm a bears fan. She's a cubs fan, I'm a sox fan."

And Elizabeth Alsup's godmother, who helped her move in, says she'll miss her quote "right hand man," nagging and all:

"'Can i use your car? Can you pick me up to take me there?' Yeah, right, so yeah we depend on each other."

But there is one thing these families have to fall back on as they make the two hour drive back home, says Sandy Lange.

"I'm already picking them up from the train station Labor Day weekend, and Tracy's going to bring them back on Monday, so we're working out a system." 

Along with about 2,500 other Augustana students, Alsup and Lange started class this week. They're taking Mandarin together this year.