LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
A seemingly unfathomable distance of 7964 miles separates Fuzhou, China and Hampton, Va., the home of 633rd Civil Engineering Squadron here. Despite the distance, one Airman made the trek to improve his life and serve in 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, Airman 1st Class Xing Zheng, an engineer technician
with the 633rd CES, 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 the city, he did not let a language barrier confine him.
"Surprisingly, the cultural transition was rather smooth," Zheng said. "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 began to speak English fluently.
With a comfortable acclimation to U.S. culture and a solid grasp of the language, Zheng focused on bigger goals.
"Once I felt comfortable communicating, I decided to join the military," Zheng said. "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," Zheng said. "Communication was much more difficult for me than I had anticipated."
Not long after arriving at his first duty station at Langley AFB, 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," Zheng said. "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. The difficulties he has faced on his journey made him a better person, he said, and he's "excited" to see what the future holds.
"The (Air Force) has taught me a great deal in a short while," Zheng said. "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."