Two students sitting at a table in Lion's Den cafeteria

Journey to Penn State Lehigh Valley

Tracing the paths of two international students and how they arrived in Center Valley
By: Dennille Schuler
In August of 2016, Penn State Lehigh Valley welcomed its first cohort of international students after the campus received international designation.

Two of these students were FengPing Wang from China and Yannick Mousso from Africa. Both students were nervous coming to the U.S. for college, but in a short time they have made Penn State Lehigh Valley their home.

“Many of our Penn State Lehigh Valley students represent multilingual and multicultural backgrounds,” said Angela Jeon-Huh, global education and inclusive excellence consultant at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “I think that is part of the reason why our international students feel especially welcomed at our campus. All of us, the other students, the faculty and staff benefit from having international students be a part of our campus community. They bring with them global perspectives and different life experiences that they share with everyone they interact with.”

In search of more opportunities

Wang, who is known as Leo to her friends, is a first-year telecommunications major. While she has spent time in the U.S. before, this is her first time above the Mason Dixon line. Wang has a sweet demeanor, with kind eyes and a pretty smile. She is quiet when you first meet her, but she quickly opens up to show a warm and witty side.

Born in Jiangsu, a coastal Chinese province, Wang later moved to Shanghai. Frustrated with her school in China, Wang applied to be an exchange student in the U.S. during her freshman year of high school.

“I was looking for hope in my future,” said Wang. “This country is a superpower. I never thought it would be possible for me to come here. I am not from a rich family. But surprisingly, I was accepted as an exchange student and I moved to live with a host family in Healdton, Oklahoma.”

Wang moved from Shanghai, a city with a population of more than 24 million, to a small city in southern Oklahoma: Healdton, which has a population of 2,800.

“The transition was hard at first. It was very different than Shanghai, but it was also amazing. I experienced many different things,” said Wang. “My host family took me fishing and hunting. I drove four wheelers and went camping.”

She finished high school with another host family in Sanford, North Carolina, which is about an hour southwest of Raleigh. After graduating, Wang said she decided she wanted to attend college in the northern U.S.

“I like the American education style, but I wanted to see a different part of the country and I thought going to school up north would give me more opportunities,” said Wang. “I think Penn State Lehigh Valley is in a perfect location. It is so close to many big cities and it is beautiful here.”

Wang started her first year at the Lehigh Valley campus in August.

“I remember Leo on her first day. She was very shy and did not talk much,” said Jeon-Huh. “However, she quickly adjusted both culturally and academically and has actively participated in both academic and co-curricular activities on and off campus. She learned early on that there are so many advantages to personal and professional development when a person takes on challenges by coming out of their comfort zone. She is definitely a role model for other international students.”

While the transition to college is not easy, Wang advises to continue putting yourself out there.

“Force yourself to talk to professors and to other students; they can help you. Our professors and other student leaders have all been encouraging. I was scared about my college life, but I found a lot of people who wanted to help me and gradually, I adjusted.”

The small size of Penn State Lehigh Valley was a positive for Wang.

“Our campus is quite small, but with less students means more opportunity, like my trip to Washington D.C.”

Student in front of Lincoln Memorial in D.C.

FengPing Wang, who is known as Leo, visited the Lincoln Memorial during the academic seminar in D.C. this January.

Credit: Nichola Gutgold

Nichola Gutgold, professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley, told Wang about the opportunity to spend two weeks in D.C. in January to participate in The Washington Center’s academic seminar on the transfer of power during the inauguration. The educational experience was funded in part through a grant from the Schreyer Institute of Teaching Excellence and the academic department of Penn State Lehigh Valley. Wang said she realized what a great opportunity this was and took advantage of it.

“Washington, D.C. has so much history. I was attracted to the program because it was a chance to learn more about American democracy,” said Wang.

On Inauguration day, Wang got up early to witness the Presidential Inauguration on the National Mall. 

“The American people show great spirit and patriotism.  Many of them were wearing red, white and blue scarves and it was the first time I saw such big crowds in the United States,” said Wang.

While Wang has plans to transition to University Park in two years, she said she recommends students consider starting at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

“Students should come here if you want opportunities to get involved because sometimes it is hard to do that at schools with lots of students, but here you can get involved easily,” said Wang. “Also, if you like smaller class sizes, this is the place for you.”

Once Wang graduates, she hopes to find employment either here or back home in China.

“I love this country, but I do plan to move back to China at some point to be with my family. I did not realize how important family is until I came to the U.S. and was far away from them.”

Embracing the PSU energy

Mousso is a first-year finance major at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Mousso is approachable, he has a quick smile and an inviting laugh. Though he admits to feeling socially awkward at times, you could never tell.

Born in the Ivory Coast in the western part of Africa, Mousso lived there for five years before coming to the U.S.

“My mom won the green card lottery when I was five, so I moved with my parents to Harlem in New York City,” said Mousso. “I remember attending P.S. 194, which is where I met my first best friend.”

He said he struggled to understand the teacher since he did not know English, but tried to pick up what he could from body gestures.

“I would work with my mom when I came home from school since she knew English.”

After a few years in New York City, the family moved to Blakeslee, Pennsylvania where some of their family were already living. Mousso attended Pleasant Valley School District for part of elementary and middle school.  It was during this time, that his parents adopted his sister, a baby girl from France.

Soon after, his father, who was the vice president of the court of appeals prior to leaving for the U.S., was summoned back to his job.

“It was hard for me to convert back to the Ivory Coast school system so I attended a private British academy, Morning Glory International School, in Ivory Coast that was associated with Cambridge University.”

Mousso knew at an early age that he wanted to attend college in the U.S. His cousin currently attends Penn State University Park and told Mousso what it is like to be a Penn Stater.

Mousso decided to apply and start at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

“My first impression of Penn State Lehigh Valley was it is kind of like high school all over again because it is the same size, but after orientation I realized it isn’t high school at all. It is at more of a professional, serious level,” said Mousso. “I get to interact with my professors one-on-one, which makes it easier to learn.”

Two students sitting at a table outside of campus

FengPing Wang and Yannick Mousso hang out at the Student Plaza at the Lehigh Valley campus.

Credit: Dennille Schuler

The energy of Penn State, and particularly of this campus, is another attraction for Mousso.

“The energy that each individual has in this institution, but especially on our campus, and the energy professors give off, make you want to strive to be your best. It is a great campus to start your Penn State education or even to stay and finish it.”

While the campus has made a positive impression on him, Mousso himself has made a strong impression on the campus.

“No matter who Yannick interacts with he is always receiving positive feedback about his positive and friendly attitude towards everyone and everything. He is very respectful and willing to learn new things. That attitude surely has paid off in building a wonderful reputation for himself among the faculty and staff,” said Jeon-Huh. “These characteristics will serve him well in the future. I am proud to say that he is one of our international students.”

Even though Mousso attended an international academy for high school, he continues to learn about different cultures at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

“I live with an international Chinese student, which I’ve been enjoying. He teaches me about traditional Chinese food and customs. I have also learned a lot about the Middle Eastern culture from my classmates. There are so many stereotypes out there and they have shown me how different they are from those stereotypes,” said Mousso. “I have always been fascinated by something different than what I’m used to, and I am always willing to try new things.”

Mousso said he has one bit of advice for students who are considering to come here.

“If you pick Penn State Lehigh Valley, just be ready for one of the most interesting and mind-opening experiences of your life. So far with all I’ve experienced, I didn’t think I would experience this much in such little time.”

He said he has benefited from the personal attention he has received since this is a small campus.

“Here you are encouraged to interact with the school and try different clubs. I am a member of the Business Club, and last semester I even tried to get a soccer club started,” said Mousso.

Mousso’s efforts of recruiting close to 30 students have helped lay the groundwork for a soccer club to come to campus next fall.

“I am deeply driven by soccer. Seeing that huge soccer field next to campus, I wanted to create a good team to play on that field. I also think soccer is a good way to get to know people,” said Mousso. “I am very excited that soccer is coming to this campus next year. I plan to go out for the team.”

After graduation, he plans to stay in the U.S. to work and hopes to start his own business, but said he will not forget his ties to Ivory Coast. Mousso also plans to expand a family farm and two real estate businesses back home.