Fiona Qian Wang spent much of her first few months in Findlay in tears. Coming to the U.S. to study (her first trip outside of China) was necessary for her future career, but a huge step for this only child who grew up in Beijing.
“I was so homesick,” she recalled. “I missed my parents and life in a big city, but I knew I would need to get involved to fully learn the language and culture of America.”
“Involved” was an understatement. A graduate assistant and co-student director of UF’s English Language Support Center from 2013-2015, Fiona was also a teaching assistant in the Intensive English Language Program (IELP). Soon after arriving in Findlay, she found herself teaching six-week blocks of Chinese language to students at Van Buren Elementary School.
“My advice to other international students is that you must break out of the shell,” she emphasized. She feels that international students can’t fully learn a country’s language and culture without becoming involved in day-to-day activities; making friends who may be different from them, and joining some campus organizations. She admits that there are some areas where the transition could be a little easier.
Adjusting to a New Culture
“In Findlay, the lack of public transportation is really difficult if you’re used to riding trains and buses,” she added. “Students from other countries must be made to feel valuable here in Findlay. They need to become a part of this society, but many just don’t know how to start.”
As her involvement in academic activities grew, Fiona extended her cultural reach into campus organizations and events, including the Mobile Food Pantry, Travel the Globe, Toys for Tots, the Service Ambassadors Program and Gateway Church. She was achieving what she had intended, actually becoming a contributing member of the Findlay and campus communities.
Earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from Beijing’s Kede College of the Capital Normal University in 2012, Fiona worked as an English language instructor while in school. From 2010-2012, she received the Personal Excellent Scholarship issued by The Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and a National Grant for the Students, also issued by the Ministry of Education, from 2008-2010.
“I knew I had learned about as much English as possible without taking the next step,” she recalled. The next step meant attending a graduate program in the United States. She chose The University of Findlay for its Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program. After graduating in May 2015, she began working at UF as an adjunct professor in the Department of Language & Culture as well as traveling to Columbus, Ohio on Saturdays to teach at the Ohio Chinese School.
The young woman, who learned to fight back her tears of homesickness and loneliness, has just taken another “next step.” She has been hired as a full-time faculty member at The University of Toledo and began teaching IELP students in early January 2016. She will also start working on a doctoral degree in Toledo within the next year, focusing on teaching pedagogy.
Ultimately, Fiona would like to help “build a bridge” between China and the U.S. so more students from both countries could study abroad. Her own experience has shown how becoming involved in another culture can build knowledge and expand horizons. She has made friends from all over the world while at UF and even speaks a little Arabic.
What about her parents? Are they waiting for her to return to Beijing?
“My father is such a big fan of the United States,” Fiona laughed. “He and my mother have their bags packed and are ready to come to Findlay. I’m sure I’ll be seeing them soon!”