She spoke Cantonese at home, and at WVU she learned Mandarin, the official language
of China. Navigating both dialects showed her that Cantonese speakers will sometimes
try to twist their words around so that it sounds like Mandarin. They might be understood
50 percent of the time. Either way, it’s always funny.
As she’s watched her mom’s devotion to her parents, Dang envisions a future for
herself that is Chinese when it comes to family.
“I’ve always been really close to my mom, and I know for a fact when I get older,
I’m going to be living with her,” Dang said. “That may have been because of the
influence that I’ve seen from my mom to her parents. Even though she’s not living
with them right now, I can see how much she really cares about them.”
Since her parents’ divorce, Dang and her brother were raised by their mother, who
worked in a grocery store to provide for the family. Dang remembers all the friends
and relatives who helped her family in hard times. It’s made her give back in turn.
It’s why she sponsors a child in Ghana through World Vision and volunteers with
Engineers Without Borders and why she volunteers at her old elementary school in
the fourth grade where the students are learning Chinese.
Dang was able to study abroad in Beijing after she received the Benjamin Gilman Scholarship,
a national program that provides funds for study abroad to low-income students
who receive the federal Pell Grant. When she returned, she shared her experiences
with fellow WVU students and
encouraged them to seek out opportunities that are available for first-generation,
minority and low-income students.
Elizabeth Dang in the Nath Sculpture Garden at the Art Museum of WVU.
Dang has witnessed many instances of American and Chinese relations as she’s shared
her culture with her community. She was active in the Chinese Club, where members
taught students and others how to make dumplings, write calligraphy and play mahjong,
a tile game that uses strategies similar to the card game rummy.
For her Chinese studies capstone project, Dang compared authentic Cantonese cuisine
with American Chinese food, which are not the same thing at all. Dang loves Chinese
food. All of it. The not-so-authentic American Chinese food that she gets with
her friends, (because, hey, cheese wontons and lo mein taste good). The buns and
noodles she had in Beijing. And, most of all, the stir fry and old fire soup that
her mom makes.
Dang is part of a small Chinese community in Morgantown that gathers for Chinese
New Year and the Mooncake Festival, which is held during a full moon in autumn.
When she was younger, Dang would play a violin solo and sing with other children.
“I would say back then if you weren’t Chinese it was really rare for you to be involved
in something like that,” she said.
Recently, as she participates in the annual festivals with the Chinese Club, she’s
noticed a lot of people participating who were not Chinese.
“That makes me really happy to see Morgantown just being more culturally diverse,”
Dang started seeing American interest drift toward Chinese culture when she was in
eighth grade and Mandarin was offered, which she became familiar with that year
and in later high school classes. At WVU, she thought she would just minor in Chinese,
but found herself getting so involved in the robust Chinese language and culture
program – led by teaching associate professor Hannah Lin – that it became her second
“The work effort that [my classmates] put into Chinese is absolutely amazing to me,
and I think it’s awesome that they have that passion.”
Dang, an Honors College student who is graduated this spring with degrees in industrial
engineering and Chinese studies, has a job as a manager with a Target distribution
center. She wants to one day return to China to work, probably after getting an
MBA. Her industrial engineering courses showed her the processes businesses can
use to improve. She knows both Chinese and American language and culture. She sees
an opportunity for American companies to sell in China, and she wants to be a bridge
to make that happen.
“The demand in China is crazy just with the amount of people that they have. Whenever
that market starts to have an interest in you, you’re golden,” Dang said. “If Chinese
people start wanting your products, you’re good to go.”
She also sees a lot of room for improvement to help Americans capture that market
before other countries do.
“I feel like with our generation and the generations after us, this type of partnership
is just going to continue to grow and grow,” Dang said. “And if we continue to
stay stubborn and just not learn about any other cultures other than ours in America,
we’re not going to get anywhere.”
She knows it can be done. She’s watched her fellow students.
“The work effort that they put into Chinese is absolutely amazing to me, and I think
it’s awesome that they have that passion,” she said. “That passion is so big for
them. It’s enough for them to want to pursue a degree in Chinese and even become
fluent in a language that they have never even heard of probably until they got