Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Life in a Bilingual Community

When students study abroad, it’s usually with the goal of immersing themselves in a target foreign language environment. At the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, however, it is truly a bilingual community. Classes are conducted either in Chinese or English, and student life includes various initiatives that mirror the bilingual academic environment.
The Public Speaking Club has two components: daily and biweekly. Buttons worn by members daily indicate the language in which to speak in for the day. When other students see the button, they are encouraged to converse with the wearer in that language. There are also biweekly meetings held to practice public speaking in the form of short speeches. The speeches are given in the target language, and the rest of the club provides feedback following the speech.

 The Movie Club has a mission of introducing the US and China in the form of a weekly film. While students cover specific topics such as history, culture, and politics in class, movies provide an immersive experience to see all three come to life. Where else would you see James Bond and 孙悟空 (Sun Wukong, the Monkey King) sharing a stage?

Chinese and International students also work together to run a weekday coffee counter in the student lounge. Not only does this shop provide the bargain cup of joe in town, it’s also a way for students and faculty to interact with each other outside the classroom environment. There’s even an incentive for repeat customers in the form of a loyalty stamp card.

For many study abroad programs that consist exclusively of international students, the environment may morph into a Chinese in class, English for everything else setup (unless the program enforces a Chinese-only requirement). For the HNC, however, there’s roughly an equal number of Chinese and International faculty, staff, and student body. This unique composition is what makes the HNC bilingual community sustainable. A quick look around the Center will show that everything from bulletin board memos to laundry machine directions are presented in both Chinese and English. In addition to the clubs mentioned above, an equal ratio of Chinese and English can also be heard at informal gatherings such as study groups, dinner outings, and ping pong matches. 

Why is a bilingual community important? Students not only gain an understanding for their target culture, but are able to educate each other on the similarities and differences between the two cultures. A bilingual experience teaches students valuable skills in intercultural communication, skills that will be essential in their future careers in academia, business, government, and more.

Written by Nanfei Yan, HNC Certificate/SAIS MA Student