URI Chinese Immersion Program prepares students for year abroad

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – January 28, 2009 – In anticipation of spending a full year working and studying in China next fall, ten University of Rhode Island students enrolled in a week-long Chinese Immersion Program this month designed to help boost their Chinese language skills and prepare them for an exciting cultural experience.

The students spent six hours per day on Chinese language instruction, two hours daily on cultural activities in the evenings, and in between found time to work on an individualized project relevant to their academic field of study. The program was a preview of an even more intense experience – an eight-week Chinese immersion program – that URI will offer this summer.

“These are students who have already had some Chinese language coursework and, in some cases, have already visited China before,” said Erin Papa, coordinator of the URI Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program, part of The Language Flagship, a program designed to prepare students to reach professional-level proficiency in languages important to national security and economic competitiveness while pursuing academic majors of their choice. “It was great to see these students voluntarily tackling this program so enthusiastically.”

Barry Blackinton, a URI junior from Warwick studying political science, fell in love with the Chinese culture at a young age.

“I did research on China as a kid, became interested in its music, and I even worked at a Chinese restaurant for a couple of years, where I learned a lot about Chinese culture,” he said. “For me it was an obvious choice to sign up for this program.”

Blackinton aims for a career working for the FBI or CIA, and he knows that Chinese language proficiency will help him achieve his goal. As part of his participation in the Chinese Immersion Program, he prepared a paper examining how the culture in China affects U.S.-China relations and discussed President Barack Obama’s plans for working with the Chinese government.

Like Blackinton, Rachael Browning has also had a long-time interest in studying and visiting China. A chemical engineering student from South Kingstown, she was attracted to what she called its “picture-based language,” and she guessed that she probably would not have a chance to learn the Chinese language after she graduates from URI.

“I’ve taken Chinese classes every semester that I’ve been here, so I know a lot of grammar,” she said. “But it’s hard to build vocabulary because it’s hard to find someone to practice with outside of class. The Immersion Program helps build our vocabulary because everything we say and do for the whole week is in Chinese. And the project we worked on builds vocabulary in our academic field, so I learned the Chinese words for engineering terms.”

Through the URI International Engineering Program, Browning will attend Zhejiang University next year, one of the top universities in the country for students studying chemical engineering. After that, she is considering expanding her horizons even further by studying German and earning a master’s degree in Germany.

Ethan Ash, a jazz and political science major from East Providence, said that learning a language through an immersion program is “much better than through a regular course where you only study it 50 minutes a day.”

Ash became interested in studying Chinese because of the country’s growing influence on the global economy. “The country is growing fast, the influence of its language and culture is growing fast. And it will be even more important in a decade,” he said.

While Ash spent two months in China last summer, which he said helped him considerably with his language skills, he looks forward to returning for a longer visit next year to learn more about its political system. “I’m going to have a political science internship while I’m there, and it’s pretty intriguing to imagine what that’s going to be like.”

Most of the URI students participating in the Chinese Immersion Program seek to become Chinese Flagship Scholars, which provides them with scholarship support in exchange for pledging to achieve a superior level of proficiency in the Chinese language. Qualifying students are required to pass a language proficiency test to receive the scholarship.