Chinese scholar masters English, American culture to succeed

Jing Ma, known and referred to as Joy, spoke little English when she arrived from China to begin her Purdue University Calumet education.

But at the university’s Commencement Exercises Sunday (5/22, 6 p.m.) at the Radisson Star Plaza Theater, she will deliver the traditional Student Response on behalf of her graduating classmates.

The 21-year-old finance and accounting major was selected based on her accomplishments and service contributions. During her Response, she plans to discuss the unlimited opportunities available to those who make the effort and work hard. Working hard indeed has defined Joy’s years at Purdue Calumet.

It all started three years ago when her mother, Xian Zhao, a professor in the School of Management at The Inner Mongolia University of Technology, came to Purdue Calumet as a visiting scholar in the School of Technology. As a college foreign exchange student, Joy accompanied her mother to Northwest Indiana and enjoyed the experience so much that she decided to enroll at Purdue Calumet.

As a transfer student from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China, Joy had to overcome many challenges—notably, language and custom barriers—to succeed as an American university student. Though she began reading and writing English in middle school, her English speaking skills were lacking when she came to Purdue Calumet.

“I remember my first class here,” she said. “The only three words or phrases I understood were, ‘hi,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘good-bye.”’

To keep up with her studies, she had to accelerate her learning curve of English—and she did so through sheer will. She said she slept just three to four hours a night during her first year, reading textbook assignments repeatedly.

Her dedication and perseverance allowed her to succeed with a 3.96 grade point average and a list of honors that includes: Outstanding Student in the School of Management, Dean’s List, the Swan Citizenship Award, the Above and Beyond Award, the Management Award for Student-Faculty Research Engagement and selection to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Joy said that unlike the Chinese educational system, which demands a seven-day school week and instruction based solely on book knowledge, she prefers the American educational system and its focus on application and training students to think critically, creatively and, most importantly, individually.

“In America, you have to find your own way to succeed,” she said. “I like the challenge.”

While the cultural obstacles also proved to be difficult to overcome at first, she said her experiences have broadened her horizons. Take food, for instance.

“Everything here has cheese in it,” Joy said. “I am used to it now and have grown to like it, but it isn’t very good for your waistline.”

It was Purdue Calumet Professor of Organizational Leadership and Supervision Carl Jenks who introduced to Joy a resume of a well-rounded university student who was involved in campus and community activities while achieving top grades. He told her that is what her resume should look like upon graduation.

“I told her ‘college is what you make of it,’” Jenks said, “and I thought she should get more out of her experience here than just good grades.”

Joy took that advice and ran with it. Subsequently, she became involved with several campus student activities and organizations, including the Finance and Accounting Club, the Indiana CPA Society, the Honors Program and the Career Services Advisory Board. She also has participated in volunteer programs such as the African American Leadership Conference, the Hispanic Leadership Conference, College Goal Sunday, the Chancellor’s Scholars Reception, International Tax Day and Spring Break-thru, during which she performed clean-up and other service at the Indiana Dunes.

Additionally, she applied her love of research to initiate the Student Research and Development Association, which connects other research-aspiring students with university opportunities.

It was through all of her activities that she has developed many friendships and established an American life for herself—a life she looks forward to continuing in graduate school.

“I have found the first necessary skill to learn in America is time management,” she said. “It is the only way to succeed with studies, research, volunteer work and a social life.”

According to Ed Furticella, faculty member and acting head of Purdue Calumet’s Department of Accounting, Joy “will be successful in whatever she does because of her work ethic and passion to learn. She takes pride in all she does. She is honest, self-motivated and certainly understands the value of education.”

After graduate school, Joy hopes to work for a global consulting company that would allow her to travel between China and America. She also eventually wants to teach at a university.

“Her hard work has paid off, and I know she has a very bright future ahead of her,” Jenks said. “She has proven what a valuable asset international students are for our campus.”