International student shares Coug pride in travel across the US

Jinfeng Ma shares his love of WSU in road trip across country



Post-graduate Jinfeng Ma points out the signature he received from astronaut Samuel Durrance during his journey across the United States this past summer.

CARMEN JARAMILLO, Evergreen reporter

The Yellow River is the second largest in Asia and sixth in the world. It runs about 3,400 miles through northern China from west to east before emptying into the Bohai Sea. Along that river in central China, surrounded on two sides by mountains, is Lanzhou. With a population of about 3 million, Lanzhou, a mid-size city for the country, is about four times the size of Seattle.

That’s where Jinfeng Ma, a 25-year-old graduate student studying mechanical engineering, grew up. Ma had never left Asia before he came to the U.S. in 2017 to attend WSU.

Ma was first told about WSU by one of his professors in China. His first day here he said he was struck by the beauty of the Palouse. He said he loves Pullman’s small town feel and safety — a welcome change from his years in Lanzhou.

“It’s easy to live here,” Ma said. “I like the weather here and the academic environment. The students are really hard working and also we have time to relax.”

During his first year in the U.S. Ma visited Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, but he wanted to see more. He said he wanted to experience American culture firsthand and see for himself if all the stereotypes he had heard growing up were true.

When summer came around, Ma had no classes and was looking for something to do.

He settled on a road trip. He would travel the entire U.S. from coast to coast for the entire summer, carrying two WSU flags.

Ma asked people along his journey to sign the flags and collected signatures from places like Google headquarters, Princeton University and several different NASA centers including the Kennedy and Johnson space centers. The flag was even signed by astronaut Samuel Durrance in Cape Canaveral.

Starting in Pullman, Ma drove first to Portland, and then down the coast to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. He traveled east to Texas: Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Continuing east, he passed through New Orleans and then down into Florida. He went north through Washington D.C. and then to New York.

On the last leg of his 16,000 mile trip he drove west, back along Interstate 90 through Chicago, South Dakota and Montana back to Pullman.

Upon returning, Ma donated one flag to the International Center on campus. The other he kept for himself.

He said he wants his flag to inspire other international students to experience all parts of American culture and get out of their comfort zone.

“Travel can open your mind,” Ma said. “I [came] here not only to study for the academic knowledge, but I would like to learn the culture, the history. I want to see and touch the people and the country.”

The most rewarding part of the trip, Ma said, was the people he met along the way. Everywhere he went someone had a story and he was struck by the depth and diversity of those he met.

One day he was eavesdropping on cowboys in Texas, he said, and the next speaking with an Eastern European immigrant who built a company from the ground up.

Throughout his trip, Ma said he felt WSU’s reach all across the country. He heard “Go Cougs” from at least 20 people during the summer, sometimes shouted from cars or by those who signed his flag.

“This was the best experience of my life,” Ma said.

Ma said his travels aren’t over and that he has his sights set on Canada next. As for his career, he said he may continue his studies at WSU Vancouver after he finishes his master’s degree, but that he plans to eventually return to China to be with his family.