Mason Expands Chinese Language Program, Other Initiatives

Posted: April 20, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

Responding to student interest, George Mason’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages initiated its Chinese program in the fall of 1999, and during the first year of its existence, 157 students enrolled in Chinese language courses. Currently, the number of students enrolled in the program’s courses has climbed to 274, and the interest shows no signs of abating.

The increase is spurred in part by the initiation last spring of a minor in Chinese, which requires advanced language proficiency and course work in Chinese literature as well as grounding in Chinese history, art, or religion.

“The minor in Chinese offers George Mason students the opportunity to study one of the rapidly developing ancient cultures of the world,” says Karl Zhang, program coordinator. “The minor’s emphasis is on developing strong language skills: oral communication and the reading of texts. A Chinese minor can easily and effectively be combined with majors in other disciplines. It is especially valuable in combination with business, computer science, international studies, anthropology, history, government, philosophy, or another language.”

For the second year in a row, Modern and Classical Languages received one of only 20 scholarships funded by the Chinese government and awarded to U.S. universities to allow a student from each university to study at a Chinese university for a full academic year. The scholarship covers tuition, room and board, and a stipend for personal expenses. To be eligible to receive the scholarship, students had to have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5, a letter of recommendation from their major advisor, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have Chinese language proficiency equal to at least one full year of college-level instruction.

This year’s recipient was sophomore David Solorzano-Lowell, who is majoring in global affairs. Last year, the scholarship was awarded to senior Dacil Keo, a government and international politics major who has studied Chinese for four years and is currently studying at the Beijing University of Language and Culture.

“My overall experience in China has been wonderful,” Keo writes in an e-mail. “My first semester was quite hectic and stressful since at that time I was preparing to take the GRE in China, applying to graduate school, studying Chinese, and getting adjusted to life in Beijing. The spring semester, however, has been quite the opposite. When I think about returning to Virginia, I feel as though I will be leaving my home in China, a feeling I never imagined I would ever have. Not only have I been able to greatly improve my Chinese language skills, but the places that I have visited, like Shanghai, Suzhou, Tianjin, Da Lian, and Xi’an, and the friends that I have made have allowed me to really appreciate and value this opportunity to travel to China.”

Students who have participated in the Chinese program have decided to pursue language studies for a variety of reasons. “Studying Chinese language has become a passion of mine,” says Lucas Geller, an individualized studies major who is also enrolled in the Chinese minor. “I have been really pleased with the program at George Mason. Currently, I am enrolled in Chinese 202, and my instructor, Hsiu-fen Chien, is amazing; I’ve never had such a helpful teacher before.”

Demetrios Recachinas, a government and international politics major, is currently enrolled in Chinese 102. “I decided to study Chinese for many reasons, but a major one was that last year I was fortunate to be able to travel around the world for six months, passing through 28 countries,” he says. “China was by far the most interesting and diverse. In addition to this, the fact that China is an up-and-coming superpower made it all the more appealing as a subject of study. The language, written and spoken, is incredibly fascinating and difficult, but the program at George Mason is great. I have enjoyed my instructors thus far and am looking forward to taking future classes within the minor.” Recachinas is scheduled to undertake studies in Beijing during the fall 2005 semester.

George Mason’s Center for Global Education has also offered a summer program in the People’s Republic of China for the past two years and will offer a third this summer, which will be hosted at the Beijing Normal University.

“George Mason University’s location in the nation’s capital has presented opportunities to get involved in projects supported by the Chinese Embassy,” notes Madelyn Ross, director of China initiatives in the Office of the Provost. Several university-wide initiatives with China are under way, including a faculty exchange with Nanjing Normal University and the U.S.-China 1-2-1 Joint Academic Program.

In addition to these initiatives, the School of Management is planning to take more than 30 MBA candidates to China for a global residency this August, the College of Visual and Performing Arts has formed an International Opera Alliance that is working on staging Tosca at a new opera house in Shanghai this summer, and the Graduate School of Education will add Chinese to the list of languages in which it offers foreign language teaching licensure.

The Chinese language program currently offers instruction at the elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, courses in grammar and syntax and Classical Chinese, as well as topics courses such as contemporary Chinese film and readings in Chinese poetry and post-Mao literature. “We also hope to develop a major program in Chinese within the next two to three years,” says Zhang.

For more information on the Chinese program, visit the web site.

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