When we arrived at our arranged meeting place, the Lemon Bear restaurant on the NIT campus, he was reading the news on his iPad and drinking his third cup of cappuccino. He looked up at us with a slightly introverted smile which radiated both warmth and kindness. Zefeng Zhang, a senior exchange student majoring in English with a minor in Communication at the University of Indianapolis (UIndy), had returned to NIT for short summer-vacation visit following his first year of study abroad.
While most students in NIT’s Sino-US program decide during their sophomore year whether or not to study abroad, Zhang decided during the summer of his junior year after participating in a study program at the University of Ottawa. Smiling, Zhang explained, “I had never been abroad before, and this study tour confirmed that a study-abroad experience was what I wanted. I was able to live, work, and communicate efficiently in the Canadian environment and after a while, I felt quite at home. I cooked meals for myself, made new friends, and passed all of my courses. It was awesome and, as a result, I was convinced that I could survive and even flourish in a two-year foreign exchange program.”
According to Dingxu, Zhang’s NIT class tutor, Zhang was always a straight-A student, and she is quite proud of him. “He considers carefully what he wants to achieve and, once he’s made up his mind, he’s very goal-oriented. Such an all-around excellent student is rare.”
During his years at NIT, Zhang pursued his love of photography. He was a council member of the Ningbo City University Student Photography Union and served as Director of the Yinxiang Student Photography Club. His photos were published twice in the Ningbo Dongnan newspaper and once in the official Zhejiang Education newspaper. He also won the 2nd prize in a Ningbo city photography competition. For Zhang, photography is more than a hobby: “Photography has brought me luck through my contacts with other photography buffs both at NIT and at UIndy. It also has enabled me to explore the visual and artistic aspects of local and international cultures and events.”
Yiyi, one of Zhang’s friends and a fellow shutterbug in the Yinxiang Student Photography Club observed, “In our club, the title of ‘Director’ is an honorary one and is only conferred upon a person by the club’s former Director. Because Zhang received this title, it means he was considered an ‘ace’ by his peers. His photographs were always fantastic and enlightening.”
Gazing into the depths of his cappuccino cup, Zhang reflected, “I became involved with the NIT Post because of my deep love of media and news, and because of my affection for DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) photography. I thoroughly enjoyed my role as the school’s newspaper photographer.”
In the fall of his sophomore year, Zhang joined the NIT Post as a journalist. He developed story ideas, wrote news stories, and conducted interviews. Dingxu, Instructor of the NIT Post staff, noticed his keen attention to detail and his well-honed instinct for interesting news stories, and promoted Zhang to the position of Student News Editor. At this point, Zhang’s many duties included offering constructive feedback to the staff writers. The following year, he was elected Editor-in-Chief of the NIT Post. In his new position, Zhang acted as liaison for the section editors, arranged organizational meetings for each issue, and networked with editors and faculty advisors. He also served as the Photo Editor of the NIT Post, mentoring staff photographers, organizing photography assignments, perfecting photos for publication, and ordering camera equipment.
Zhang recalled, “In my last two years at NIT, I developed my skills by becoming part of a band of schoolmates who shared an interest in journalism. In addition, we all learned a great deal from our instructors. In my work with the NIT Post, I was honored to meet several journalists and editors of the China Daily publication group. These experiences not only enriched my campus life, but also laid a solid foundation for my further studies at UIndy.” He then added, “I chose to minor in Communication because of my passion for news and media, and I plan to pursue a graduate degree in this field in the United States.”
At UIndy, Zhang serves as Photo Editor for the campus publications, The Reflector and The Reflector Online. He practically applies the experience he gained with the NIT Post in working with section and online editors to select the best photos for their editions, and his dedication and zeal have won him numerous awards: Three ‘Mark of Excellence’ prizes from the Society of Professional Journalism (SPJ), Region 5; a 2nd prize in photojournalism from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association; one 2nd and two 3rd prizes in photojournalism from the Indiana SPJ; and the distinction of being named Outstanding Contributor to The Reflector during his senior year at UIndy.
Looking back on Zhang’s years at NIT, Zhang Shanshan, the former monitor of Sino-US class English 101 and a classmate of Zhang’s, commented: “Zhang participated actively in both faculty and campus activities, and he was quite good at communicating with foreigners .”
In 2011, Zhang won the 2nd prize in an English debate at NIT. He also played an important role in establishing NIT’s Beyond the Voices project, which is devoted to the preservation and spreading of Chinese culture. In 2012, he won the 2nd prize at a movie dubbing competition, served as Vice-Secretary for the Cross-culture Communication Club, and was honored as an Excellent Teacher in his volunteer work to teach Mandarin Chinese to foreigners. In his final year at NIT, Zhang also volunteered to teach disabled students at the Jinghe Primary School in Ningbo‘s Zhenhai district.