Weina Wang takes off her jean jacket and lays down on the grass in the Oval to “soak up some Vitamin D.” She lays on her stomach, picking blades of grass out of the ground one by one.
“I spend most of my time in the basement of the Engineering Building, so I love to get out in the sunshine,” she said.
Wang, an international student from China, has been at CSU since 2006 working on her Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
Growth from her roots
Wang is from Tianjin in northeast China. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Beijing, she moved to England seeking her master’s degree.
Now, after two and a half years in England, Wang resides in Fort Collins, working every day to earn her Ph.D. through cancer research.
Her desire to travel stems from her childhood, when she used to travel around China with her parents, something she says many Chinese consider recreation.
“It is interesting to be somewhere strange and discover the fun things there,” she said.
So when Wang decided to pursue higher education through study abroad experiences, her parents fully supported the idea.
“They encourage me to experience different things,” she said.
Since coming here, Wang’s parents have showed support by coming to visit her.
They brought her Chinese trinkets to remind her of her homeland, and she took them river rafting on the Poudre; something she said is “not as much of an adventure in China.”
A handful of differences
A Chinese population that exceeds one billion people is what Wang said is one of the biggest differences between China and the U.S.
She said in China, there is much more interaction between people because there is less personal space.
“Here people are polite, but they tend to keep their own spaces,” she said. “It took me a while to get used to.”
Along with person-to-person interactions in China comes a concentration on personal relationships, she said.
“People in the U.S. focus on taking care of problems instead of focusing on relationships,” she said.
Wang said this mentality is very different than the mentality in China, saying it gives her a different way of thinking and makes her more open-minded.
Squinting into the mid-day sunshine, Wang thinks for a moment about youth culture in China, concluding that young people in China feel a great deal of pressure from society and their families to “follow certain paths to succeed.”
Youth are expected to work, earn money and move out of their parent’s house by the time they reach their early 20s, she said.
“Seriously, you can feel the pressure from your family,” she said. She said if a person doesn’t earn a bachelor’s degree, their life is considered to be “off track,” and that work experience is not as valued in China as it is in America.
When youth are expected to follow certain paths to success, these paths can be relatively limited, Wang said, explaining that Americans are given a choice of what they can do with their life and are respected for their choices. Although these expectations have existed in China for quite some time, people there are trying to break those patterns with some success in recent years, she said.
Easing into culture shock, getting involved, facing challenges
After spending two years in England, Wang said she knew what to expect when coming to the U.S.
“There is more sunshine here than in England. You have to take an umbrella with you whenever you go out there,” she said with a chuckle.
She said it is very important to get involved when studying abroad and to try and enjoy the trip while “trying to discover a different side of yourself in the process.”
And Wang has done just that since she’s been here.
She is the president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association and organizing events for the group, such as the Chinese mid-autumn festival. Wang has also traveled to various states, visiting Wyoming when she visited Yellowstone with her friends in 2007.
Although she said she knew what to expect upon her arrival in the U.S., there were some challenges she faced.
She said language was a challenge although she has been learning English since primary school. Learning about international diversity was also a challenge, she said, because a simple gesture might mean something different in a different culture.
Spending time in the basement
Wang’s office is situated in the basement of the Engineering Building, with one window at the end of the hall, filtering in light and giving Wang an idea of the weather.
For two years, Wang has worked to developed new technology in cancer research. Her group developed a small “chip” and is working on learning how blood samples placed on the chip could reveal early signs of cancer in the blood.
Wang said it is important that she came to the U.S. for her Ph.D. because the research here is done in a more active, open-minded way, like when here supervisor encouraged her to think about problems she encountered in research and to be open-minded about them.
Wang said she enjoys her project because “it is cool doing something that can affect other people.”
“We are doing cool things here; we just need money,” she said, laughing.
Rongjin Yan, one of Wang’s colleagues, said Wang is hardworking and helpful to those around her. Although Yan and Wang are from the same city in China, they didn’t know each other until coming to CSU. This has led them to become good friends, Yan said. He commented about Wang’s curious personality and her desire to explore the world around her.
“I remember in Orlando, for a conference, she rented a car and drove around by herself for two extra days,” he said.
Tilting her head to one side and contemplating her Ph.D. project, Wang said she is still not sure what career path she would like to follow. But she said she knows she wants to go back to China, where her family is waiting for her.
Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at email@example.com.