The view of Kent State from China

Ben Wolford

A couple weeks ago I received an e-mail from a Chinese graduate student asking if I’d be willing to meet him to talk about Lester Lefton.

Tianjun Shen had read my column in which I mentioned that Lefton is an amateur stained glass artist, and he wanted to pick my brain about our university president.

For Shen’s studies, higher education administration, he arranged a November interview with Lefton and wanted me to coach him on how to approach the somewhat intimidating man.

He wanted to use my knowledge of Lefton — I interviewed the guy twice monthly for four months for the Stater — so I decided I could use my conversation with Shen to get an international student’s perception of Kent State’s culture.

If you read Shen’s Sept. 13 guest column “What’s so special about Kent State?” you’ll know he loves it here.

When I met him for coffee in the Hub, he’d been in the United States for three weeks; he’ll be here for the next two years learning how to be a college administrator.

So Shen was very much still in the honeymoon stage of his visit.

When I studied in Leicester, England, this spring, the first three weeks were pure discovery. I was so engaged in meeting people, marveling at their accents and trying to remember to look right first when crossing the street, that I forgot I was in a northern industrial town, roughly the equivalent of Toledo or Washington, Pa. (viz. unremarkable).

But I had a diverse set of friends, many of whom were also international students, representing something like 20 different countries. And I took advantage of Leicester’s geographic centrality to see London, Scotland and, for many weeks, continental Europe.

Time spent on campus at the University of Leicester will appear as a footnote in my memoirs.

After talking with Shen, I got the impression Kent State will not be secondary material for him. He’ll remember this university when he leaves.

And part of that is his doing because most experiences are what you make of them. He has chosen to let the culture of Kent State and this country become a part of his experience here.

But what is the culture of Kent State?

The people are friendly, Shen said.

Unlike the standoffish nature of those in New York and Los Angeles, whom he was warned about back home in Shanghai, the people in Kent have been nothing but kind to him.

In this column, we keep coming back to that. Surely there’s something more distinctive about this place than having friendly people. That’s just a platitude.

I’d like to talk to a professor who’s been here for decades but has been other places, too — perhaps more outwardly desirable places. I’d be interested to learn why he or she has stayed. Is there more to stay for than friendly people?

Ben Wolford is a senior newspaper journalism major and the editor of the Daily Kent Stater. E-mail him at [email protected],and read his blog at