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  • Wenwen Yang

Alumni Spotlight: An American and International Adventure Interrupted

Wenwen Yang came to UCI from China to learn English and experience American campus life – then COVID hit.

Summer 2021

There’s something special about DCE alumna Wenwen Yang, a quality of kindness and caring that encompasses everyone in her orbit as well as the world at large – a quality that can leave a lasting impression, even remotely.

A native of China, she came to the U.S. to experience American culture, make friends and eventually study pedagogy and child psychology, two passions of Wenwen’s, the doting mother of a 7-year-old son. But first she needed to learn English. It was important not only for her studies but also so she could participate in her son’s education.

So, after doing a bit of digging as a reporter for a large-circulation newspaper in Guangzhou, she decided to enroll in UCI DCE’s ESL program.

“My previous experience as a reporter with Yangcheng Evening News allowed me to get exposed to a lot of information on my education options,” she said. “Based on that, after discussing it with my husband, I chose UC Irvine, hoping to build a solid language foundation before starting graduate school, hopefully at UCI. My time studying English at UCI turned out to be an unforgettable experience for me.”

Wenwen was loving her on-campus experience, the classes and all the extracurricular activities, then COVID reared its ugly head and shut it all down. Her ESL courses were intended to be mainly onsite, but the transition to remote learning wasn’t quite as traumatic as expected, said Bob Betts, a longtime ESL instructor.

Each class is capped at 18 students, so it was easy to get to know all the students – and Wenwen was a standout from the start.

“She worked very hard, but what really stood out was that she answered questions in a very well-thought-out manner,” Betts said. “She seemed to care so much about other people and for the world situation. I can only describe her as having a spiritual quality, and she really appreciated the opportunity to learn and study. She ended up becoming one of my most memorable students, for sure.”

Betts was surprised and delighted when Wenwen introduced herself with a Donald Duck puppet. “That was really surprising and funny,” he said. “So, when I gave her my feedback video, I used a puppet that I have at home for the kids. I think the students enjoy getting to know an American teacher.”

Wenwen graciously found time to share thoughts on her study-abroad experience and plans for the future.

Let’s start with your background. What led you to study in the U.S.?

I graduated from Qingdao University of Science and Technology in 2005, and after that I worked in big cities throughout China such as Qingdao, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Then I met my husband and moved to Kunming with him, so he could study in the field of investments and group management. More recently I decided to come to UCI with my son to build a solid English language foundation, and then do further study in pedagogy and psychology for children. I did four quarters of ESL study, including two semesters of online courses and two semesters of in-person courses.

What are your thoughts about transitioning from in-person classes to online?

I think that in either case, good teachers can always make learning engaging and interesting. I enjoyed my time in the classroom, on the beautiful campus with abundant extracurricular activities, face-to-face communication with classmates from different countries. It’s great to experience teachers and their different teaching methods such as group tasks, games and debates. There was always something new; it all made me full of expectations and excitement for each day.

With online classes, it’s more about creating a sense of ritual. Don’t become lazy just because you are at home. Get up early and put on clothes you’d normally wear in class. Take a look at the homework you need to learn today. The sense of ritual allows me to maintain a steady routine for my studies.

Bob Betts certainly holds you in high regard. Can you tell us about your experience in his course?

I like Bob very much. If you use one word to describe him, it must be sincere. He is always gentle and firm, knowledgeable and patient. Even on Zoom, he’s the type of teacher who makes students feel inspired. My spoken English is not very good, but Bob is very patient and helped guide me to learn more, step by step, and he’s like that with all his students. A good teacher is like a ray of sunshine. We can’t describe it, but you know, you accepted its shining.

Your Donald Duck puppet intro sounds inspired, by the way. Tell me about that.

Bob has his students do a self-introduction in the first week of the remote semester, so I did mine as an interview between me and Donald Duck. In response, he uploaded his comments as a furry toy. He might seem old school, but he’s also quite humorous.

Tell us about your family. Do you plan on building a life in the U.S.?

My husband still works in China for now, and I’m still living here with my son. He is one of the driving forces for my continuous growth – I want to be a role model for my child. He is currently preparing for first grade in a private elementary school. He’s very happy studying here, which makes me very happy. This may be the difference between Chinese education and American education. As for whether we will stay in the United States in the future, we have not decided yet.

How would you characterize your overall experience with UCI?

Every day of studying at UCI is very fulfilling, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve benefitted from every teacher I’ve had. More importantly, I saw a different world, experienced a different culture, opened up my mind, and anticipated more possibilities for my future. I really hope to be admitted as a graduate student at the university because I have become a big fan of UCI!

Learn more about English Language Programs.