"From the community to my colleagues to my neighbors, I really feel supported and comfortable here."
Lingling Zhu came to the United States for college and stayed for love: of a handsome geologist from Indiana County, the verdant natural environment and professional opportunities for those unafraid of charting their own path.
This adventuresome native of central China enrolled in a 10-month study abroad program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, about 60 miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh. The difference in the educational experience was marked and welcome.
“Here you have a lot of freedom to tailor your studies to your interests around certain core requirements. In China, especially in certain majors, about 90 percent of classes are chosen for you.”
Lingling quickly became involved in university life, earning a place as president of IUP’s Exchange Student Association. A professor suggested she continue her graduate studies in the region, to further her career options as well as to figure out whether her romantic relationship had staying power.
After a year back in China, she entered Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in fall 2011, taking on three concentrations: social entrepreneurship, community development and nonprofit management. She volunteered as a data analyst with Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, garnering work experience as well as precious friendships. She was also a volunteer business consultant with several local start-up organizations. Upon her graduation, she received the Barbara Jenkins Award, which acknowledges a student who had significant contributions to the university community as well as the Pittsburgh region. Feeling that she had not lived up to the second part of that designation, Lingling promised herself to find ways serve her adopted region.
Since graduating, she has been working as a VISTA Ambassador for the Google-funded HandsOn Tech program, which helps nonprofits build technological capacity. Locally this program is housed in Pittsburgh Cares, an energetic volunteer matching organization that is also a leader in professional volunteerism arena. When that assignment concludes in August, Lingling will join the full-time staff of the Idea Foundry.org, a business development incubator in Oakland striving to create innovation-related jobs across a range of industry sectors. Lingling is heading up its efforts to market the Pittsburgh region to Chinese entrepreneurs, investors, business professionals, students and tourists.
She’s also found time to launch a blog, A+ Pittsburgh Experience, highlighting her explorations of the people and places that make the Pittsburgh region such a magnet for anyone that’s spent any time here. (Read her lyrical inaugural post, Love at First Site, set in the Pittsburgh International Airport.)
The boyfriend-now-husband/best friend, Matthew Morgan, is a geologist for Rosebud Mining Co., working in Westmoreland and Indiana counties. The couple lives in a stone house on the outskirts of Leechburg, about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Downtime is spent romping with Luke, a Malamute, exploring their wooded acreage, reading historical novels and talking with family back in China via Skype or WeChat.
With her outgoing, can-do spirit, Lingling is optimistic for herself and Pittsburgh as place of opportunity and innovation. But when asked about her favorite aspect of the region, she’s quick to get to the bottom line.
“It’s the people,” she says. “Before I came here, I was aware that Americans are very much individuals. I thought that might mean that they don’t have a lot of space in their lives for others, that there wouldn’t be much inclusiveness. That perception was complete wrong.
“People here feel very genuine. From the supportive CMU community to my colleagues and teammates to my neighbor Ms. Donna Zboravan, who has become like a second mom. I really feel comfortable here -- although also privileged to have had such opportunities that brought me this far. I feel there is a purpose and meaning in my life. I hope to build a channel between Pittsburgh/Pennsylvania and China so that people from both places can have a better understanding towards one and another, to enjoy prosperity and celebrate life’s many offerings.”