Danchen Wang, a Mass Communication graduate student, is the go-to guide for international students. With a cross-cultural flexibility, Wang has worked to blend her Chinese roots with her American education. We met at Pavement Coffeehouse to discuss her advice for future international students.
What do you like best about living in the USA?
Freedom. Here, I get to live my own life. I don’t need to care what other people think about me. I can just be myself. Many women at my age in China, one of their top concerns is to find a boyfriend, then get married and have children. However, in this country, at least temporarily, I get to live whatever life I want to live.
You have a fluidity between the two culture, talking with both American and Chinese students.
I appreciate that so many American people love talking to me. I wouldn’t be that fluid between cultures if Americans didn’t want to talk to me.
Your openness allows them to talk to you.
I’ve learnt overcome my fear. English used to be one of my strengths in China, but when I came here I found out that my English is not that good compared to native speakers. I learned from domestic students how to be confident and how to express my opinions. No matter how many grammar mistakes I make, I still want to express myself.
Your key message is for students to overcome their fear. That is easy to say, but how can you help students overcome that fear?
A lot of students talk to me and say “Danchen, yesterday, I raised my hand during lecture and I said something wrong.” I tell them, “Forget it. No one will remember what you said, but you need to have the courage to keep expressing yourself because you have your own insight. Maybe your grammar and clarity are not ideal but you will be better and better at it. If you choose not to say it, you are not going to improve yourself. Be confident next time. If you want to be more prepared, then write a few sentences before class.” That is what my first advertising professor told me.
That’s excellent advice. There’s no harm at looking at notes. What is your second piece of advice?
It’s really important to embrace the new life here. Meanwhile, you need to remain [true] to your cultural identity. I’ve combined what I’ve learned and experienced here.
Explain this to me.
Let’s talk about class participation. As a Chinese person I’m still careful about what I say. I overcame my fear to talk about my opinions during lectures. I’ve combined [this with] the confidence from the domestic students.
What do you combine it with?
My carefulness (caution) as a Chinese student. I need to contribute to lectures, but meanwhile I want to be more confident.
You’re telling new students to be more confident. What else can you say?
Try to be open-minded about everything. Sometimes Chinese students may think that their classmates don’t listen to them or their professor isn’t paying enough attention to them. It would be hard for American people to communicate with international students. International students and American students need to work together to overcome this. I tell fellow international students, you need to understand them because maybe as they (Americans) grew up, they haven’t had so many chances to meet international students. They are figuring out new ways to communicate with you, so you need to give them more chances. It’s important to understand other people so you understand all the factors about things that happen.
We have 2 points so far. Confidence as one. Two sides of the story as the second. Tell me number three?
Diligence. In COM, you need to spend so much time on language. Maybe a native speaker will write a paper in two hours, but I need 5-6 hours. Working hard is very important so that we can shorten the time we spend on language capabilities.
In your first year you really dug deep into trying to understand the language.
Yes. I used to write really, really badly. I had clarity issues, and I tend to use a lot of complicated words and sentences. When I first saw the kind of writing that American people appreciated, I realized English education in China has serious issues. I understand it is hard for students to adjust because it is totally different from what our English teachers told us. However, since I got the chance to work at the COM Writing Center, I forced myself to improve my writing in a relatively short period of time.
Tell me something that you want to take away from your experience at BU.
How does COM play into that?
COM has offered me so many opportunities to develop what I like and what I think is important to do. No one can take that away from me. That’s how I become more and more independent.
What do you want to do in the future?
I am not so sure about the specific direction yet, but I think I will find a way to stick to international/intercultural communication, since it will always be who I am.
Denise Joseph, Senior Editor/Faculty Liaison
Denise is a graduate student studying mass communication. She is a BU staff member in the College of Engineering, Division of Systems Engineering, where she manages an academic center and a technical journal. Denise has an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from Wesleyan University and a Master’s in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. She is an avid tea drinker. She delights in digging and planting in the garden and is especially proud of the rock paths and stone walls she’s constructed.