ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - Just three years after moving from China to Osakis while still learning the intricacies of the English language, Merry Kalpin is now the winner of two national academic awards.

This year, Kalpin, known as Huan Wang in her native China, won first place in college accounting, and second place in prepared speech at the Business Professionals of America National Leadership Conference held in Orlando, Florida.

In the fall of 2016, Kalpin enrolled in the accounting program at Alexandria Technical and Community College, where at first she sometimes found it difficult to understand everything the teachers said, but expressed her appreciation of the school staff and students for their encouragement.

"Even my classmates helped me," she said.

When she missed something in class, the Alex Tech community was there to fill her in. But Kalpin also displayed persistence.

When asked whether or not she ever got a question wrong in accounting class, she replied, "Never." In fact, she even found an error in her textbook.

When Kalpin moved to the United States from China, and began searching for a new job, her English speaking skills were not the best. That made it difficult for her to find employment.

Although she loves the U.S., it's been a big change from positions she held in China, including the business operations manager for Imation, which Kalpin said spun off 3M, in Beijing. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in educational psychology from a top university in China.

During her time between arriving in the U.S. and starting the accounting program at the college, she helped her husband, Jeff Kalpin, at his business, O-Town Tavern in Osakis. While working with her husband, who Merry met when they both worked in China, she gained exposure to the financial side of American business, shaping her decision to study accounting at Alex Tech.

"I'd rather learn something like accounting that can be for everything," she said.

After enrolling in the accounting program, she hit the ground running.

"I got straight A's first semester, and my teachers loved me," Kalpin said.

When her teachers began to see her accounting skills, they encouraged her to participate in DECA, a marketing, management and entrepreneurship group for students, and later Business Professionals of America. She went on to win first place in an accounting event at a DECA competition.

She was humbled and surprised at her achievements, explaining how she even apologized to the judge because English is her second language.

Kalpin often stayed up until midnight studying throughout the school year.

Mavis Pattee, the Business Professionals of America student adviser at Alex Tech, noticed her efforts. "She has such drive and work ethic," she said. "The amount of time she spent preparing speaks to her awards."

After winning several awards, she needed to narrow down her involvements in order to maintain her strong study habits. She decided to continue in BPA and leave DECA.

At the state BPA competition, Kalpin said, she stayed up late practicing her speech in the hotel gym, and didn't have her accounting textbook with her at the competition like the other competitors. She still qualified for nationals in college accounting and prepared speech.

By the time the BPA National Leadership Conference rolled around, Kalpin finished rereading and reviewing the entire accounting textbook, and prepared a speech on "Cross Cultural Collaboration."

Determined to perform well, Kalpin said, "I carried my heavy book to Orlando, and I got first place."

She finished with first place in college accounting, and second place in prepared speech, demonstrating her proficiency in a language she was not fluent in three years ago.

Through her experiences in the last few years, Kalpin wants to encourage people that, "It's never too late to start your new life."