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Choosing China

Nathan Baker
When Rose Hansen enrolled at Hampshire College, her plan was to study German. She wanted to master the language, with the goal of one day teaching it to others as a second language.

All that changed, however, when the directors of a local language school came to teach a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification course at Hampshire. Hansen took part, and the door to a wider world flew open.

“I learned much more about language learning, culture shock, the importance of celebrating cultural diversity, by talking with students and teachers from this school,” she says.

Along the way, she also found herself intrigued by the Chinese language and culture. Her next step? A switch from German to Chinese, helped along by a two-month, intensive study abroad program in China’s Hefei, Anhui province.

For Hansen, studying abroad was key.

“If we want to have a society that considers decisions and consequences on a global level, we need to first become aware of and appreciate other countries, cultures, and traditions. Having experiences abroad is a good step toward this
goal,” she says.

Hansen is one of a growing number of Hampshire students who opt to study in China as part of their college experience. She considers knowledge of the Chinese language and culture a bridge to the future, and at Hampshire, it’s a bridge that’s getting wider and busier.

Hampshire is in the midst of an ambitious plan to broaden its Chinese curriculum, says Assistant Dean of Global Education Vanessa Paulman. Efforts include expanding course offerings, opportunities to study abroad in China, and the number of visiting Chinese scholars and students who come to campus.

“I was part of Hampshire’s exchange with Anhui Agricultural University,” Hansen says. “The primary teacher who taught the group was our teacher at Hampshire the preceding year, an amazingly kind and patient woman who teaches in the Chinese classic literature department.”

Liming Liu, Hampshire’s China program manager, says the college’s study abroad option in China includes exchanges with partner institutions, field studies, and internships. Hampshire students are encouraged to get to know the “real” China and its people. “It’s very flexible,” Liu says. “We offer our students opportunities that are really tailored to their needs.”

The freedom to define her own education at Hampshire led Hansen not just to China, but also to a richer appreciation of the world and her own potential in it: “Hampshire’s China program, including my experience in Hefei and with the visiting scholars on campus, introduced me to a language and culture that I knew very little about, and by the end of the summer program, I decided that it was a subject I really wanted to continue studying.”

In particular, Hansen has been drawn to late twentieth century Chinese history and the changes that have impacted China’s people, society, and government. “I hope to attend a Chinese studies graduate program and eventually teach Mandarin as a foreign language,” she says.

Hansen points out that with China’s rising influence in many fields, the job market for Chinese teachers is likely to keep growing. “The promise that a future job will be there is a very good thing for any recent graduate,” she says. “More than just helping people learn a language, I hope that I’ll be able to help them develop an awareness that appreciates other cultures and begin to see issues and events from new perspectives.”

Fellow Hampshire student Nathan Baker began his college education with an eye already on the Asian perspective.

Baker has studied in China three separate times while a student at Hampshire. He is beginning his Div III project this fall. Division III is a yearlong, final research project that Hampshire students conduct in conjunction with a panel of faculty mentors.

A focused learner, Baker wanted to attend a college where he could devote as much time as possible to working on what interested him.

“I originally chose Hampshire because I knew I could really concentrate on what I wanted to study without having to go through a wide variety of requirement classes,” he explains. “Also, the opportunities I have with the four other colleges in the area really influenced my decision.” As part of the Five College consortium, Hampshire students are free to take classes and utilize resources at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Baker is focusing in Chinese studies. Mastering the language is necessary, and to do so, he headed most recently to Beijing for the spring 2007 semester.

“I chose to do the immersion Chinese language track at the Beijing program of Asian studies at Peking University,” he says. “My language skills improved a lot during my semester there and really gave me the confidence to carry out an interview for my Div III.”

Baker’s Div III project is a study of how the residents of Beijing spend leisure time. To gather data, he hit the streets and interviewed scores of residents. It required him to stretch his newly-honed language skills.

Beijing marked Baker’s third trip to China. He spent summer 2005 in a Hampshire exchange program at Anhui Agricultural University in Hefei, Anhui province. The following summer he did an independent study at Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, Sichuan province. 

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