URI students attend summer school in China

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 29, 2010 – Twenty-six students at the University of Rhode Island returned from China last week after having completed a unique summer school experience that included four weeks of Chinese language instruction at URI and four weeks of continued study in China.

Students in the Chinese Summer School earn eight academic credits while studying the Chinese language at one of three proficiency levels.

“This is a unique opportunity, not only for students, but also for business professionals and adults of all walks of life to gain proficiency in the Chinese language and be immersed in the Chinese culture,” said Erin Papa, who coordinates the program. “It’s an experience they will never forget, and it will open doors to jobs at global companies and other opportunities they might never have imagined.”

During their time at China’s Zhejiang University, the students had daily classes and visited local and global companies as well as historic and cultural sites. The group also learned Chinese calligraphy and Tai Chi and visited the World Expo in Shanghai.

“Living in China like that was like throwing yourself into another culture feet first, and sometimes you don’t want to swim, you just want to drown in it,” said Riley Davis of Westerly, a biomedical engineering major. “When I asked my tutor back home a particularly difficult question about the Chinese language, she told me, ‘You just have to feel it.’ By coming to China, I wanted to feel the language and culture in my heart, not just in my head.”

Like Davis, most of the other participants were excited about the opportunity to become immersed in a culture so different from their own, one that would open their eyes to new perspectives on world events and provide opportunities for future career directions.

“My favorite part of the trip was being able to meet and speak with new people,” added Elena Dempsey, a marketing major from Greenville. “The Chinese people of Hangzhou were very willing and eager to have me speak Chinese to them, and I appreciate their kindness and patience very much.”

On his decision to enroll in the program, URI biomedical engineering major Marcus Hoffman of Pawtucket said, “I wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere entirely different. And learning a new language, particularly one as prolific as Chinese, is a skill that will help in unexpected places all throughout life.”

The Chinese Summer School is part of the URI Chinese Flagship Program, an initiative of the U.S. government designed to prepare a greater number of American students to be highly competent speakers of Chinese and highly familiar with the Chinese culture.

“The Chinese Flagship Program offered me a chance to master a very difficult language in a manageable amount of time and in an exceptionally engaging way,” added Davis. “I know immersion works for me — I did it for Dutch and Spanish in high school — so the chance to go to China to study beginner level Chinese was a great opportunity.”