Amber Zhaoyang Wang is an international model on the rise. Originally hailing from Luoyang, China before moving to Pennsylvania as an international student, her unlikely foray into the world of fashion has now catapulted her onto the cover of prestige fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Vanity Teen, GQ, as well as Vogue China, L’Officiel China and China Fashion Cosmopolitan. Her story of reaching the heights of global modeling success includes struggles with mental health and trying to fit into a culture that was very different from her own.
Amber originally had no intention of pursuing a modeling career. But during her time studying at Calvary Chapel Christian School in Pennsylvania, she was discovered by Barbizon modeling and acting agency when she was at a mall with friends. Amber was surprised at first, but once she stood in front of the lights and camera, modeling came as second nature.
Growing up in Luoyang, China, Amber was a very gifted basketball player and at age 14 she would win a national-level championship as a part of her local basketball team. A year later, she moved to the United Stated to further her education. After studying at Calvary Chapel Christian School and then Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA, she left early to move back to China, where she established an English training center, Warrior Education at age 19.
Amber then decided to return to the states to finish her education at Penn State University. Here, she would struggle with mental health, as so many international students do. But with the help of friends and resources at the university, she found herself in a better place. Amber hopes to use her platform as an international model to highlight the struggles of international students, and advocate for mental health globally.
We spoke with Amber to learn more about her fascinating personal story, and why being open about mental health is important to her.
Can you tell us what it was like moving from China to the US as a teen, and what the most startling cultural differences were for you?
Hot water and iced water. In China we almost never drank iced water because I was told drinking hot water is good for you. But when I came to U.S., ice water was everywhere. When I try to order a pure hot water, people are little bit surprised, haha.
What made life easier the more you settled into Pennsylvania?
I feel I am a person who is not really settled anywhere. I think PA is good place to study, it has a good academic environment, but during weekends I would always travel to New York with friends and eat Chinese food.
You were discovered by a model scout while you were at a mall with friends. What was that experience like for you, and were you always interested in modeling?
I honestly felt really happy and surprised. Though, at that time, I was playing sports, involved in student government, and studying. I didn’t have time to do something else, but that experience laid a foundation in my heart.
You briefly moved back to China to establish an English Training Center, before returning to your new home in the US to further your studies. As an international student you struggled with mental health during this time. Can you share more about this, and why it happens to so many international students?
Most international students who go abroad to study by themselves like me go when they are quite young. This means we do everything by ourselves and in a completely different environment, from ordering meals to making friends. There are so many challenges everywhere. We suffered and struggled yet we never complained. But we knew we were not fine.
I was so lucky that I told my professor my situation that I didn’t feel good and later on, my professor recommended the mental health department at Penn State, and they are amazing. Before that I never knew they existed. They knew exactly how to help a student struggling like myself.
What helped you through this difficult time?
Reading a lot of books about emotion and feelings and trying to figure out why I was feeling this way. Books that make think why I have these feelings and figure out how our brain works and why our emotions change. When you see yourself as an outsider a lot of things make it clearer. Exercising also helped. The body and mind are connected. If you don’t feel well, then treat your body well first.
Today as an international model you have been seen on the covers of magazines like Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and Vogue China. Did you ever think you’d become an international fashion icon growing up?
I always loved to watch runway models with my granny when I was a child, those were some of my favorite memories growing up. In China, we have a phrase “Three-year-old fixes eighty”, which roughly means, from the character and personality traits revealed by a three-year-old, one can infer that they will have similar straights at eighty years old. When I first got into the industry, I always tried my best and did my work. I truly love what I do and think the most important thing is to stay humble, modest, and always be nice to people.
What does it mean for representation seeing more women of color, and in particular Asian Women, on the covers of magazines?
I think it represents the development of globalization. We combine all the people in the world together and make an effort in this industry.
Who were some of your fashion role models growing up? Who are your role models today?
When I was a child, I loved Kate Moss. Nowadays my role models are Inès de La Fressange, Tina Chow, and Ye Jihong (the first supermodel in China in 90’s).
How has your fashion career become a platform for other areas of interest in your life?
Fashion changes your lifestyle. You need to eat healthy and self-management is important. Modeling also lets me know more about the movie industry, as I’m thinking about getting into film.
What message do you have for other young women, especially young Chinese women, looking to you as a role model for pursuing their ambitions and dreams in spite of difficulties?
Have courage and be kind.
Where do you see yourself in 5 and 10 years time?
I want to do more traveling, like Paris and Milan Fashion week., because in the recent years, Covid made traveling so hard. I hope I can do more Fashion Weeks in different countries.