‘Adversity is actually not a bad thing’
Having lived many lives from China to London to Texas, it’s safe to say that picking up and moving to Florida this past summer was not out of the ordinary for Cheyenne Currall, wife of USF President Steven Currall.
Settling into her new role, Currall has been able to explore the campus and Tampa. She officially transitioned out of her previous job recently as the vice president and executive adviser for global advancement at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
She said she enjoys walking around the campus weekly to explore the Marshall Student Center and the Martin Luther King Plaza.
“This campus has more outdoor art than any other university I have been to,” Currall said. “I love the bulls in front of the MSC.”
But, her favorite pastime is doing Zumba in Campus Recreation and Wellness.
However, Currall faced many hardships prior to becoming a USF Bull.
The Chinese Cultural Revolution, led by Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong in the 1960s, played a crucial part in Currall’s upbringing.
Because of her parents’ status and success as business CEOs, they were imprisoned for what was considered “capitalist behavior.” Her four siblings were moved to the other side of the country to work on farms but she was left to fend for herself at home at just 8 years old.
“I was born into a very privileged family but I ended up losing everything,” Currall said. “I had to figure out how to survive.”
She was shunned by the public and had to learn how to take care of herself with no money or skills. Since her nannies took care of the family, at the time, she didn’t even know basic skills, like how to properly wash her hair.
To her surprise, a few community members went out of their way to teach her to cook and maintain a household.
Despite the circumstances, Currall was grateful that her childhood taught her how to be independent and self-sufficient.
Because the schools in her area were shut down, she gained an education by studying her older siblings’ books.
“Adversity is actually not a bad thing,” Currall said. “Once you survive something, you grow. It’s a gift in a way. When I look back, that’s how I see it.”
After the revolution ended in 1976, Currall was able to reunite with her siblings, and her parents were released from prison after being wrongfully convicted.
Eventually, she was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in foreign literature and was granted access by the Chinese government to study comparative literature in the U.S.
Thus, her American journey would begin.
Currall moved to Rhode Island to attend Brown University, but she said the journey as an international student was not easy.
“In China, I was well-known, but when I got to the U.S., I was a nobody,” Currall said. “I realized I became a minority and I had to fight through that but I have a fighting spirit inside me so that helped. It was quite a journey, psychologically.”
After six months, she received a call from the Chinese government encouraging her to pursue a master’s and to go back to China afterward to teach English.
“I said no,” Currall said. “It has always been my goal to get a Ph.D, the highest degree there is.”
Knowing that she had plans to stay in the U.S. longer, at this point, Currall had started to question her childhood. The leadership of Zedong sparked a curiosity in her.
“I wondered how this one person could have so much impact in China at that time,” Currall said.
After some deliberating, Currall changed her doctoral track to study organizational psychology and global business strategy, which prompted her to transfer to Cornell University in New York.
There, she would meet the love of her life, Steven Currall.
However, this made the decision to return back to China even harder.
“We had to negotiate,” Currall said. “We met, fell in love, talked about marriage and had to decide where we wanted to stay. I had the intention to go back to China, but he didn’t speak Chinese. But I was very flexible at the time.”
Currall found that she was also falling in love with American culture.
Funny enough, she said she related to its cultural values more than in China.
“U.S. culture is emphasized by merit — if you try hard, you will succeed,” Currall said. “In China, it is about who you know, what family you are coming from which is very traditionally based.
“I like that it’s about individuality, personality and that you can achieve as much as you can.”
And this is exactly what she did.
In her time in the U.S., Currall has worked in international business, became a corporate psychologist, a CEO for a medical international institute and worked in global fundraising.
Now living at the Lifsey House, the presidential mansion on campus, Currall has had the ability to better connect with USF Tampa students.
“I may just show up in students’ dining halls or the library and in the bookstore. I mean, I am already doing Zumba with 18-year-old and 20-year-old students,” she joked.
Currall and her husband moved into the Lifsey House on June 10. Currall said she was surprised the house had been vacant for over 20 years.
“A lot of people didn’t believe us when we said we wanted to live in the Lifsey House,” Currall said. “So when we came we were so shocked that nobody wanted to live there before, it’s beautiful. We wanted to bring some life to it.”
Currall has also developed a passion for helping women in leadership and international students succeed.
“I care a lot about women in leadership and immigrants being successful because, you know, that’s my story,” Currall said. “I’d like to be a mentor to those students.”
Although she has more of a personal connection with international students, Currall said she hopes to connect with all students.
“We don’t have children of our own, so it is like we are adopting 51,000 students and I love that,” Currall said. “I love to feel the energy, the innocence — everyone is so full of hope.”
Currall said she wants no formal or paid position on campus because of her husband’s presidential position. However, she does want to dedicate some time at USF, whether that be speaking at events, sitting on panels or interacting with students on campus.
She plans to spend half of her time on university affairs and the other on progressing her career.
Currall said she would most likely work in a similar environment to what she was doing in Dallas and do global fundraising.
“I love to be in a university setting or in college towns, well now it’s a little different because I live on campus,” Currall said. “Of course, nobody recognizes me yet but I want students to be comfortable sharing their stories with me and telling me how they are doing.”