Chinese students find love and community in the Werewolves Club

Players close their eyes “at night” when the moderator calls the roles that have abilities to perform their special action. (Xiaozhang (Shaw) Wan/MEDILL
Players close their eyes “at night” when the moderator calls the roles that have abilities to perform their special action. (Xiaozhang (Shaw) Wan/MEDILL

By Xiaozhang (Shaw) Wan
Medill Reports

Anqi Hu, a 27-year-old Chinese graduate student, didn’t expect to find the love of her life in the Chinese Werewolves Club at Northwestern University.

“If it were not for the club, we wouldn’t have met each other,” said Hu, in her 5th year as a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student.

Five couples have found their significant others in the club over the last year, according to Xin Xu, 26, president of the Werewolves Club and a 4th year PhD student in applied physics.

The club was officially established on the Valentine’s Day of 2017.

Members play a board game called the Werewolves of Millers Hollow every Saturday in the Engelhart Hall Apartments, a graduate student dorm. Apart from that, they also gather on traditional Chinese holidays, playing games and eating Chinese food.

“To find something interesting to do, to make life not [so] boring, to keep myself away from dying from loneliness and sadness, I started joining the game every Saturday night,” said Mengjiao Hong, 23, also a graduate student in mechanical engineering, who became a member last summer.

Her friends there “were the only source of [a] smile in that summer,” she added.

About 30 members go to the weekly game sessions and more than 120 people are in the club WeChat group, where the club sends weekly events notification.

Like Hong, students, who are mainly Chinese students, join the club for various reasons.

“They want to make new friends, they want to learn the popular board games, they want to know the social culture and of course they want to meet their Mr. Right,” said Xu.

According to Xu’s observation, many Chinese students feel overwhelmed when they first arrive in the United States. They also feel lonely or homesick staying here.

Fangyuan Ma, 24, a graduate student of project management, recalls having dinner with a professor.

“I know English and I know how to talk, but I really didn’t know what she likes” or what might make her “feel uncomfortable or awkward,” he said. At that time, he had lived in the States for almost a year.

This same kind of confusion and loneliness he had found in others spurred Xu to start the club with three  friends. By providing a platform for students who are interested in board games, Xu hopes that “when we provide some traditional food, when we hang out together, when we celebrate the festivals, this would make them feel better.”

The Werewolves games, with its goal of either the werewolves team or the villagers team to win, may not seem that conducive to building community. But club members are branching out. Last year, they went to the King Spa in Niles for exam week relief.

“I think I found a sense of belonging here. I think everybody in the world needs the sense of belonging so they can prove [themselves],” said Ma.

Members like Hu and Ma have stayed in the club since it started. They said what keeps them is “definitely the people.”

“The game itself is interesting. But your interest can only last for a while. But the people here, we have a lot in common. We really relate and it’s easy to talk to them,” said Hu.

Photo at top: Players close their eyes “at night,” after taking different roles in the game such as villagers, the witch, the seer, and the werewolves. (Xiaozhang (Shaw) Wan/MEDILL)