Born: Xian, Shaanxi, China
Primary languages: Mandarin, English
Work: Homemaker, Columbus Chinese Language School principal for the 2014-15 school year
Education: Master’s in finance and information systems technology from University of Toledo
Family: Husband, Feng Zhen; daughters, Ivy Zhen, 6, and Elly Zhen, 4
Hobbies: I like to organize get-togethers for people in the community. I also like swimming and reading.
● Why did you come to the United States?
My husband always wanted to come to the United States because of the automobile industry, so when he was admitted to the University of Toledo, I came with him. He came in 1999, and I came in 2000.
● How and when did you come to live in Columbus?
In 2009, my husband got a job as a service engineer with Cummins.
● Talk a little about your community involvement.
For the next few years, I am going to focus on the Chinese School, which is at Central Middle School, and other communities activities like the literature festival. As a principal and also as a mother, I think I have the same expectations as the other mothers, which is to help our kids to learn Chinese culture. We don’t want to teach just language or reading and writing. We have an adult Chinese class for foreign students, and most of those people pursue the business culture and communication, so we focus on being able to speak the language instead of reading or writing. A few have come because their girlfriends are Chinese, so they come to improve communication or maybe try to make it easier to talk to parents-in-law. We also accept foreign kids. Some are Chinese kids that have been adopted by American family, and some parents just want their kids to learn Chinese because in the future there will be a lot of opportunities in China. In the Asian countries, the culture is a very big part of the business. I volunteer at First Presbyterian School as a board member and help the Chinese kids who come here get used to the school environment. I am a member of the Columbus Chinese Association, and I volunteered when Elizabethtown was building the library. I still volunteer and help with their information technology and computer upgrades.
● What were some of your first impressions of the U.S.?
There are a lot less people here than in China, and there are a lot of of other differences. For example, here a bicycle is used mostly for exercise, but in China it is used for transportation.
● What were some of the most difficult things to adjust to?
The language, especially the slang words. I knew English when I was young, but we called that silent English because we used it mostly for reading or writing. Communication was a big problem for me at the beginning.
● How have people reacted to you in Columbus?
I’m a really motivated person, so I always seek out other people. When I would walk around with kids, I would always talk to the neighbors, and everyone was so friendly. I always believe if you are nice, they will be nice back, and that was true here. I know some people think you should wait until people talk to you, but if everybody thought that, nobody would speak to anybody.
● You have been in this country for a long time. How do you stay connected to your home culture/friends/family?
One thing was the Terracotta Warriors that are at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. They are from Xian, and we used to visit them every year when I was young, so I got some of those little samples and gave my daughter’s classmates a lecture about them. We have the software program V-Chat, and we use that to communicate, or sometimes I will just call home. We try to go back to China every other year, but sometimes my parents or my husband’s parents will come here. My husband has a sister in New York, also. China had the one-child policy when I was born, but I have a good relationship with my cousin, and she helps take care of my parents, because they are getting older now.
● What do you miss most about your home country?
My family and the food. In China the family is huge. In the New Year, everybody would go to the grandparents’ house, and we would have about 25 families. Nobody would leave, so we would make a bed on the floor, and it was so much fun. When we got here, it felt so lonely because it was only my husband and me.
● What advice do you have for people coming to Columbus?
Toledo was the first city I came to in the United States, so I still miss my friends, but Columbus is just so new and fresh. I was really impressed that in such a small town there were so many activities for families and residents. There are concerts and weekend activities, and we have the Ethnic Expo. Wherever I have been, the first place I go is the library because they have so many seminars and activities. Really I would say, just go out and talk to people.
● What is your favorite place to visit, or is there a place you haven’t been that you would like to go?
We use a lot of our vacation time going back home to China. We spend 12 hours on the flight to Beijing, and if it’s not convenient, we could spend another
10 hours on a train to Xian, so that’s two days of vacation just traveling. One place my husband and I have always wanted to visit is Australia.