Gannon acts as first American experience for student

When Gannon University student Matt Zang stepped off the plane in America for the first time, it could’ve been a scene from “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Except this time around, it was Zang coming to the land of giants.

“I saw all of these tall people,” said Zang, who has lived in China all of his life. “It was just like my imagination.”

Few would think of recession-ridden Detroit as a great place for a first impression. But Zang said he was nothing short of amazed as he made his way through the airport after his 13-hour flight from Shanghai to the Motor City.

“People had lots of technology that I have never seen before,” said Zang, who arrived in the states Aug. 14. “I knew then that America was a very advanced country.”

Zang is from Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan Province that is located in the heart of mainland China which he says mirrors Erie in size, but dominates when it comes to hustle and bustle.

The 22-year-old finance major leaves behind his parents, who are involved in real estate, and a sister who’s enrolled in university.

Although Zang misses his family and vice versa, he said that he’s already accomplished a lifelong goal of theirs just by getting off the plane.

According to Zang, his father named him Matt so his life would be easier when he finally made it out of China.

“It was a dream of his that I go international,” he said. “And that dream has come true since I started at Gannon. I think that I am a brave man.”

It’s been exactly one month since he arrived in the United States and Zang says that the transition to life in a new country is becoming progressively easier and easier – especially recently.

“The beginning of my new life at Gannon was difficult,” he said. “It was tough in the class. Now I try to read about local culture and news every day.”

But Zang doesn’t just stop when the newspaper closes. He has also unofficially changed his name to Einstein because he wants to “learn more about the great scientist” and has given American music and food the old college try even though he doesn’t like either.

Zang has even forgone celebrating China’s major Mid-Autumn Festival – one of the most important dates on the Chinese calendar – to keep his experience authentic.

It’s this willingness to put himself out there in an unfamiliar country that has others, like neighbor Michael Martin, taking note.

“He made the effort to come over and talk first,” said Martin, a junior sports management and marketing major. “He’ll go meet anyone, talk to anyone. What you can see about Einstein is the effort he has made to learn the culture.”

As he learns the ins-and-outs and dos-and-don’ts about being a young adult in the United States, Zang’s armor has slowly started to fall off.

“First, he was real quiet but now he’ll come over and play video games and ask us to play American music for him,” Martin said.

While, according to Judy van Rheenen, director of the international student office, the transition from college life varies from a student-to-student basis depending on their preparedness, Einstein has hit the ground running in his first 30 days.

“My first impression of him was ‘this kid is here to really learn our culture’,” she said. “It’s funny to hear someone say he has come out of his shell because, really, I thought he entered here already out of his shell.”

Despite leaving his cocoon as a social butterfly, becoming an American student hasn’t been all fun and games. Zang has struggled at times in his classes and it’s not because he’s not smart enough – he’s surprised that college kids still have trouble with certain concepts – it’s because he can only understand 70 percent of what his teachers say.

“It’s like a big game, a challenge,” he said. “The culture, language barrier is all a challenge. You have to try your best.”

Along with Zang’s American can-do attitude also came the American desire for discovery. Before heading back to China, he wants to take in as many of the states as he can, with two in particular already in mind.

“I’d like to see California; everyone says it’s very nice.” Zang said. “I want to see New York and the freedom lady. That’d be cool.”


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