A visual art major at WKU, now a U.S. citizen after being born, raised and adopted from China, has artwork that will be on display for three years at the Confucius Institute.

Throughout her journey to her current successes, sophomore Rebecca Davis faced language barriers, hardships and more. She channeled her energies into her art.

Davis spent her childhood in a Chinese orphanage, establishing her foundations in Chinese traditions and schooling.

American parents adopted her just before she turned 12, bringing her overseas to live in rural Kentucky.

Davis, however, had just started taking beginning English classes when she was adopted, and could not yet speak it well. Her adoptive parents did not speak Chinese at all, creating the first of many struggles she faced as she adjusted to life in the United States.

“When I first came to America, I wasn’t so pleased,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody, I was over here and didn’t know the culture and didn’t have a way to express my needs to my adoptive parents. I remember running away from my adoptive parents to the church they went to.”

Davis was only with these adoptive parents for three months before being placed in the custody of state foster care and being put in a hospital environment. She never saw them again.

“My adoptive parents were well-meaning, but could not relate to me during those initial adjustment months,” Davis said.

Under custody of the state, Davis was put through other adoptive programs and hospitals.

“I was too young to realize that my hardships would, someday, turn into strengths,” she said.

She turned to Disney movies and art to comfort her through these times, drawing characters from her favorite movies, like “Toy Story.”

Davis also began studying the English language more intensively. Through Rosetta Stone, ESL programs and Disney movies, her skills in speaking English began to exceed her skills in speaking her native tongue.

Things began looking up when she was introduced to a cross-cultural therapist, who was fluent in her native tongue of Mandarin Chinese, and to Suzanne Wheeley, a retired social worker assigned to be her counselor.

According to Davis, Wheeley could see that she was just a young girl, loving Disney movies, learning American life and developing a passion for art. The art talents specifically were impressive, as Wheeley’s husband, Mike Wheeley, was a retired art teacher. The Wheeleys decided after some time to become her foster parents.

“For 18 months I watched her develop, learn English and live under difficult circumstances, separating herself from the delinquent girls around her,” Suzanne said. “She was doing well enough to go to a foster home, but the question was where to go. Foster homes have many kids, and she needed one on one attention. Mike and I began to prepare ourselves to become her foster parents.”

Since these changes, Davis has shown her true strengths, both academically and artistically. She is in good standing in the Honors College, connecting with a Chinese speaking church group and developing her skills as an artist.

She now has an exhibit, located in the Confucius Institute, displaying her artwork for all to see, as a tribute and honor to her courage and work.

“The interesting thing about Rebecca is, when we first got her she would show her talent and people would ask if I had helped her, and there are a few things I’ve helped her with, but she just does it on her own,” Mike said. “It’s all her own ability.”