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Chinese Student Nora Zhang Finds New World of Possibilities at WSC


Nora Linyan Zhang, like any typical 23-year-old, has a dream. She wants to become a journalist.


After Dr. Max McElwain, Wayne State College mass communication/journalism professor and adviser to The Wayne Stater, and his family concluded his sabbatical in China in 2011, they arranged for Nora to fly to the United States and study at WSC the following year. McElwain and his family grew close to Nora during their year in China, since she served as their travel guide and a valuable teacher to their daughter Haley.




Nora jumped on the opportunity to study in America. She saw a chance to follow her dream. But as expected, coming to Wayne has been a bit of a culture shock for Nora.


“I felt like Snow White, like I was in a story,” Nora said. “Wayne looks like it was 100 years ago. It’s very small. In China, we have a huge population. But here, there’s peace and harmony and everyone is friendly. It’s beautiful.”


Nora’s hometown of Zhangjiajie has nearly 1.5 million people. Hunan Province, where Zhangjiajie is situated, has more than 65 million people. Despite the crowded city streets, this area is home to the awe-inspiring mountains seen in the movie “Avatar.” Take the elevator up 40 stories in one of these mountains, and at the top you’ll find a placard of James Cameron, director of the award-winning movie.


Though Wayne doesn’t offer movie-worthy mountains, Nora said she much prefers Wayne State’s methods of education to those of Jishou University.


“I really appreciate WSC,” Nora said. “It’s small, but it has everything good for students. I like how the teachers teach.”


At Jishou, students aren’t allowed to ask questions during class or initiate group discussion, Nora explained. Instead, students are required to listen and take notes at a blazing pace. Jishou professors can cover as many as 300 pages in one lesson, according to Nora, and once you’re lost, the teacher won’t explain it again. Add a 5,000-word essay assignment, and you have the groundwork of a Chinese education.


“Students learn to memorize everything,” McElwain said. “But they don’t know what those things mean because they don’t promote critical thinking or discussion.”


Though Nora majors in Chinese education at Jishou, she’s worked for three newspapers in China; one being economic, the second a city newspaper and the third her university’s newspaper. Not surprisingly, all of these newspapers are highly controlled by the government.
“You have to be very careful when you write,” Nora said.


Instead of covering nothing but meetings and news at her Chinese newspapers, Nora looks forward to writing for The Wayne Stater, where she can offer her journalism experiences and also delve into opinion and feature writing.


When she’s not writing, working on her goal to be a world-traveling global journalist or improving her English, Nora is dancing. Nora practices Miao dance and has since she was 6 years old. She says she would love to eventually teach a class at Wayne State.


Nora also has other big plans at WSC. She started a club on campus called “East Culture Club,” which incorporates WSC students from Taiwan, Japan and other eastern countries. It’s Nora’s goal to bring all these groups together to enhance the cultural insight of all WSC students. Nora is already teaching Chinese to children, and plans to hold a Mandarin Chinese class in January.


Nora’s unending kindness and ambition to learn and bring students together has already captured hearts at WSC.


“She is so assertive, positive and engaged with other people,” McElwain said. “Sometimes the Chinese, because of their culture, will be shy and bashful, but that’s not the case with Nora. There’s just a shine to her.”


Nora views Wayne State as if it was her own home, where running into teachers is like “meeting an old friend.”


“Nora is a special person because of her courage. She wasn’t afraid to take the opportunity to visit WSC,” Dr. Deborah Whitt, communication arts department chair and one of Nora’s professors, said. “She exhibits trust in others that her experience will be a valuable one. Nora desires to learn as much as possible and meet many new friends.”


Wayne State will have plenty to learn from Nora as well.

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