GRADUATE STUDENT PROFILE
Plant Sciences student overcomes language challenge
By David Hutton
Imagine. You’ve studied a subject for 10 years, you know it inside and out, and you want to move your education to the next level... in a different language, in a different country, culture, and education system. Sound challenging?
That’s exactly what Ruojing Wang, a Plant Sciences graduate student at the U of S, decided to do just three short years ago.
Wang, from Inner Mongolia, China, made the long journey to Saskatoon, basing her decision solely on the reputation of the Plant Sciences program at the U of S. She says that Saskatoon and Inner Mongolia actually share a lot of climate similarities and jokes that although it is “really cold here” the Prairie region of Inner Mongolia where she is from is also “quite flat”.
But that’s where the resemblance ends. Wang struggled in her first year at the university, as she grappled with a new culture and language. She found herself constantly having to translate textbooks and course work, all while coming to terms with a new way of life.
“In the beginning it’s really hard for anyone from a different country or culture,” she notes. “When I first started taking courses it was so different, the exams were different, the courses were different, what the teachers are looking for is different. So I had to take time to figure out what was needed. The first year was hard.”
In the difficult first couple of years, however, the plant scientist found solace in the universal aspect of what she was doing – the science.
“When professors talked about the plants and the crops and how they grow, then they were talking my language,” she says
But even when Wang knew that she had the answer to a problem, she found it difficult to speak out because she was not sure she could properly explain herself in English.
“I had difficulty translating and converting everything. I found that I was taking it from English and thinking about it in Chinese and having trouble relating it back.”
But Wang says that with time and help from advisors, fellow students, staff, and the university’s excellent support system for international students, she was able to work through her early difficulties, a process that was more than worth the effort.
“In the beginning it’s hard because you have to know you have to work harder,” she says proudly. “But wherever I went everyone was happy to help me out and now that I’m at the end I feel I’ve gained more than if the process was very smooth.”
Completing her assimilation, Wang’s wide-ranging love for plant science found a new home in a research project on the aptly named ‘winterfat,’ a unique shrub species native to Saskatchewan, and a plant that Wang had no knowledge of before coming here. The name, winterfat, refers to this plant’s usage as an important winter forage plant for wildlife and livestock.
However, though native to the Prairies, like most native plants winterfat has been on the decline, according to Wang. Her goal was to find out what could be done to help restore winterfat through studying and quantifying the germination responses of the plant.
Wang’s study found that, like Saskatchewan people, winterfat has naturally adapted to colder temperatures. Whereas it was previously believed that winterfat had a base temperature for germination around zero, Wang’s research found that the seeds germinate up to 60 per cent at –3oC, depending on their size.
“Because a lot of people are trying to restore the winterfat to the native Prairie my project provided a kind of guideline and showed how tolerant this plant is to low temperatures and how it actually is not tolerant to high temperatures at seedling emergence,” says Wang.
“There are great interests in winterfat but if it continues to be grazed improperly then the plant population will continue to decline, or disappear.”
In retrospect, Wang says that her experience at the U of S has been overwhelmingly positive but says that she hopes incoming international students take her advice and find help when they need it.
“Too often,” says Wang. “students stick to their own group. These students often complain that there’s no support. But the students themselves have to do something – people at this university will always be there to help. But if people don’t know your problem they can’t help! Speak out and talk to people. If you communicate your problem you will get help.”
Wang, who is now a Canadian citizen, hopes to continue working on plant science research in Saskatoon in the future.