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NEWS | March 24, 2014

From Chinese citizen to American Airman

By Airman 1st Class Victoria H. Taylor 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Seven-thousand-nine-hundred and sixty-four miles separates Fuzhou, China and Hampton, Va., the home of Langley Air Force Base. Despite the distance, one Airman made the trek to improve his life and serve America's Air Force.

After spending the first 20 years of his life in the capital of one of the largest cities in the Fujian province in China, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Xing Zheng, 633rd Civil Engineering Squadron engineer technician, with his father and sister, left the life he knew and started a new chapter in New York City.

Luckily, Zheng's mother had lived in Queens for more than a year, easing the family's transition to their new home. Although Zheng and his family lived near the Chinatown district of NYC, he did not let a language barrier confine him.

"Surprisingly, the cultural transition was rather smooth," said Zheng. "When I initially arrived, I didn't know the English language, but New York has a very large Chinese population so that barrier didn't affect me."

Zheng decided on his own to begin English classes, attending a comprehensive academic program to learn English as a second language. After a year of intensive study, Zheng learned to speak English fluently.

With a comfortable acclimation to U.S. culture and a solid grasp of the complex English language, Zheng focused on bigger goals.

"Once I felt comfortable communicating, I decided to join the military," said Zheng. "I scored high on the [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery] and set my sights on the Air Force."

Zheng left for Basic Military Training in October 2011. After graduating in December, he attended the 71-day engineering technician course at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. With less than a year of experience speaking English, Zheng had to adjust to the fast paced learning style the Air Force required while adapting to military culture.

"The first two years of my Air Force career were, by far, the hardest," said Zheng. "Communication was much more difficult for me than I had anticipated."

Not long after arriving at his first duty station at Langley, Zheng traveled back to Fuzhou to visit his family and marry his long-term girlfriend and high school sweetheart, who had remained in China during his training. The trip was brief, and Zheng had to return to America to begin his career in Virginia.

"One year after my trip to China and marrying my wife, she moved to America," said Zheng. "Since then, she has struggled with the culture change in a similar way that I had, but has been actively attending English classes; I'm very proud of what she has accomplished."

Zheng and his wife continue adjusting to the military culture. While language can still be a challenge at work, Zheng said that does not discourage him. He was recently recommended by his unit for early promotion and is taking classes to broaden his education.
Zheng said the difficulties he has faced in his journey made him a better person, and he's "excited" to see what the future holds.

"The [Air Force] has taught me a great deal in a short while," said Zheng. "It has given me so many opportunities and has helped me to accomplish many goals that I have set, and for that I am thankful."