International Voices: Cheyenne Woon ’23 Found Her Home Away From Home at APU

by Saundri Luippold

Author's note on the International Voices series: Meeting students from all over the world at Azusa Pacific University has been one of the most impactful aspects of my time here as a student. Opportunities to hear international students’ stories and becoming friends with them have led me to develop a stronger appreciation for different cultures and perspectives. Ultimately, I’ve grown as a person the more I’ve learned about others’ lives. These connections reveal the beauty in differences, challenges, traditions, and humanity. My hope through this International Voices series is to tell student stories, spreading love and appreciation for those who have chosen to make APU their home and share the beauty of their cultures.

As a child, Cheyenne Woon, ’23, dreamed of living in America, exploring a big city, and discovering opportunities to expand her career and life. When she transferred to Azusa Pacific University in Fall 2021, her dream came true, but with that came a period of growth, marked by reidentifying what matters most to her, and learning to embrace the parts of her culture that she’ll always love.

Born and raised in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Woon’s parents dreamed of sending their children to the U.S. for college, as they admired the work-life balance in American education. They made many sacrifices to give Woon and her siblings the chance to live and learn in a new country, so when APU offered her a scholarship, she was ready to pack her bags and fulfill her American dreams.

“I had practically been preparing to come to California my whole life,” Woon said. As a child, she would watch American films and TV shows, eager to embody the personality of a “Cali girl.” Woon recalled learning to adjust to customs in the U.S., such as driving on the opposite side of the road, using terminology opposite from the British language system she knew, and becoming more comfortable talking to strangers, as many don’t do in Malaysia. “I missed a lot of things about Malaysian culture, particularly one of my favorite dishes, like Nasi Lemak, a delicious rice, chicken, and banana leaf dish, but was ready to start my new life here,” Woon said.

As a transfer student, Woon was excited to pursue new friendships. She initially believed she would have to cut off her Malaysian roots in order to fit in. Although she had aimed to assimilate into American culture, APU’s diverse student body created a shift in perspective, one that led her to appreciate her background. Getting to know international students in the Third Culture Kids club (TCK) has been one of the most impactful experiences of Woon’s time at APU, and she is grateful for the friends she’s made through the community of people who uplift others for who God has created them to be.

“TCK has allowed me to embrace and be proud of my Malaysian roots, while realizing that it doesn’t define my entire identity,” she said. “It’s my home away from home, where I’ve met people from all over the world, who all have unique but common experiences. We all struggle with belonging, but because of that our community makes us feel like we belong.”

Woon recognized the beauty of her own culture by becoming immersed in the diversity surrounding her at APU. Spending time away from Malaysia led her to discover parts of her culture she never noticed before. Servant leadership, for example, is a prominent value in Malaysia, and Asian culture overall. “Serving without expecting anything in return, and giving with humility is something I hope to practice and share with others,” she said. Woon also hopes to offer new perspectives, both in her career field and social engagements.

As a biochemistry major with an emphasis in research, Woon strives to someday combine her passion for science with her love for building community. “I like learning why things happen the way they do and studying biochemistry allows me to admire God’s creation even more,” she said. Woon hopes to have a career as a lab technician in the pharmaceutical industry and eventually pursue research. She carries a profound love for people and cultivating connections with others, which is something she hopes to incorporate in her career. “Even though STEM jobs are somewhat solitary, I trust that God will lead me to combine my science and people skills wherever He places me.”

Faith in God is ultimately the foundation of Woon’s life, and she cannot imagine life without Jesus. “When it comes to identity and belonging in a new environment, it’s easy to wonder where home is,” she said, “but instead of focusing on where I belong, I now focus on where God has placed me and what I can do in this season of life.”

While her upcoming graduation is bittersweet, Woon is grateful for her experience at APU, which has not only given her the space to expand her knowledge, deepen connections, and put God First, but introduced her to discovering the beauty in her identity. While Malaysian culture is an aspect of herself that she continues to share and embrace, her identity stems from knowing God, pursuing the calling He has for her, and remaining open minded to the perspectives of others while spreading joy through sharing her own.

Saundri Luippold ’25 is a public relations intern in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement. Saundri is double majoring in Honors Humanities and English with a minor in Spanish. She serves as head copy editor of APU's literary journal, The West Wind, and writes on her personal blog, New Romanticism.