Students study Chinese culture through immersion

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chen Xiaofeng works with students during the Troy-STARTALK Student Teacher Chinese Learning Program at Troy University.

Written by Whitley Kilcrease

Amidst the brightly colored banners and Chinese symbols adorning the second-floor classroom of Hawkins Hall, Veneekia Daniels, 17, sat with her classmates, intently focused on translating the latest class assignment during the first annual Chinese Summer Learning Program at Troy University.

Along with her classmates, Daniels has spent the last couple of weeks immersed in Chinese language and culture on Troy’s main campus, including Mandarin lessons and traditional activities such as origami, calligraphy, Kung Fu, dragon dances and many others.

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“You really get that college vibe here,” Daniels said. “It’s pretty intense, you have to be focused during class and complete your homework every night.”

Student participants also filmed and starred in a music video to the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony number “Welcome to Beijing.” The video has been posted on YouTube under the Summer-STARTALK Program’s channel.

“It was a lot of fun making the music video,” Daniels, an incoming senior at Charles Henderson High School, said. “We each had our own solo in the song.”

Daniels said she has enjoyed the language workshops as well as the cultural events, particularly the calligraphy class where participants learned to write Chinese symbols.

“I’m really looking forward to graduation on Saturday when we’ll get to show our parents what we’ve been doing. We’ll be doing a fashion review, our Chinese fan dance we’ve been practicing and Kung Fu.”

Daniels also said the camp has helped her begin learning Chinese and she thinks speaking a second language will be beneficial in her future career. She hopes to continue developing her Chinese skills through the university and eventually wants to travel to China to teach English.

“It is a great opportunity for students to increase language and variety,” Xiao Feng Chen, the instructor for the beginners class, said. “It will give them a chance to enter a wider job market, not just at home but internationally. China is a huge market.”

Chen also said the camp is a helpful tool when establishing relationships among people with cultural differences. She thinks programs like the summer camp help build friendships and understanding in the global community.

“It’s a really good way to get to know each other a little better.”

The program is divided into three classes, with two levels for student participants separated according to language skills. There are also sessions for Mandarin teachers looking to improve classroom skills and abilities.

“The teachers really make it fun and interesting to learn Chinese,” Teyonna Johnson, 15, incoming junior at CHHS, said. “They really immerse you into the language and culture.”

Johnson said her favorite activity so far was the dragon dance.

Along with cultural activities, Mandarin instructors work with camp participants according to skill levels, with the advanced class communicating only in Chinese during lectures. Participants are also given nightly assignments to finish in their dorms and submit to their teachers online.

“It’s not a boring class at all,” Chase Ingram, 15, from Prattville, said.

“The teachers are very encouraging and patient. They make the lessons exciting and keep us focused. It’s a very energetic atmosphere.”

The 15-day summer camp, which began on July 9, will be holding its final events this weekend on Troy University’s main campus. The program’s graduation is set for Saturday with the programs final event being held on Sunday.

The camp was sponsored by Troy University and STARTALK. For information concerning next year’s summer learning program, contact the Confucius Institute at Troy University.