Photo Courtesy Gerald Ling
Ling, a graduate student from Malaysia, is the only member of his family tree in the U.S.
When it came time to begin college studies, Ling decided on the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and became the first in his family to attend school in the U.S. While he has family in Japan, Australia, Thailand and across Europe, Gerald is the only branch of the Ling family tree in the U.S.
Ling says he set his mind on New England to expand his horizons.
"We have a saying at home," he explained. "A frog under a coconut shell. Your whole world becomes the coconut shell."
He has two older half-sisters – one who managed to go to college at home and another who left for Australia. His father attended a university in London for two years.
He was drawn by what he described as America's diversity. Wide-open expanses ensured "you can drive six hours in any direction, and everything changes."
In the United States, "little things" surprised him. He began to notice academics' freedom of speech and couples holding hands in public – things that would be out of the ordinary at home.
While he noticed ethnic enclaves existed in Amherst, he was struck by a lack of racism compared to Malaysia, where segregation is enforced by law.
It wasn't easy to get to the United States. After being admitted to UMass, Ling faced the task of getting a visa. The process requires security checks and must be repeated periodically when the visa expires. Ling, who has been in the U.S. for more than nine years, has held three separate visas.
One restriction attached to those visas was a set of strict limits on jobs Ling could hold. Student visas allow jobs only within the school. He hadn't planned on working during school – which is uncommon in Malaysia – but soon discovered many students in the U.S. hold jobs.
"I realized everyone was working," he says, " so, I tried to find jobs with the university."
One area he says he has had little difficulty with is making new friends. "I always like to change things up. See a new perspective," he explained. "I fit right in. I didn't get homesick one bit. I couldn't get enough."