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Ole Miss Alumni Review: Flagship University Masters Flagship Program

Being able to offer students the immersive experience of a language Flagship program is a tremendous plus for any institution. Being the best program in the country is far better, and the Chinese language Flagship program (CLFP) at the University of Mississippi has achieved that status, say its faculty and students.
The Language Flagship program began in 2002 and includes intensive programs at several U.S. colleges and universities in languages deemed critical for American government, business and military interests – including Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Russian. Ole Miss was among the first institutions to launch a Chinese Language Flagship Program.
“The Language Flagship began as a small pilot project to challenge a few U.S. universities to build programs of advanced language education,” says Donald Dyer, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Being one of the Language Flagship’s Chinese programs means this is a program designed to take students to the superior level of Chinese, a program on steroids.”

While on a four-day trip to Beijing, UM students pose for a photo before climbing the Great Wall.

UM is among a dozen institutions offering the intensive program, and the university’s success in preparing students for careers involving Chinese language and culture attracts students from across the country.
“Ole Miss has one of the most effective Chinese programs in the country, which is why I chose to come here in the first place,” says Liana Tai, a senior international studies major from Arlington, Va.
Flagship programs are results driven. One factor used to determine the quality of a program involves examining how many students it can send to the Flagship Capstone Year in China. To participate, students must fulfill all required courses, apply, pass all qualifying tests and be accepted by the Flagship Chinese Council.
“People that are fluent in english yet can seamlessly blend into the Chinese environment are considered valuable for interaction with Chinese company clients.” -Liana Tai

From 2003 to 2013, Ole Miss sent only 12 CLFP students to the capstone, compared to 2014-16, when UM sent 20 students.
“For the past two years, the University of Mississippi has had the largest group among the 12 Chinese flagship capstone programs,” says Henrietta Yang, Croft associate professor of Chinese and co-director of the program. “During the selection process, all students were ranked based on their application packages, which included a personal statement, a Chinese writing sample, a Chinese speech sample, transcripts, three recommendation letters and a Chinese resumé. Three of the top five selected and admitted were UM students, and eight of 13 were ranked above 30.”

Cultural Focus 

The Ole Miss CLFP is the only Chinese flagship program that operates an intensive domestic summer program before the freshman year and a post-freshman summer program at Shanghai University in China. This program aims to raise students’ linguistic proficiency and cultural knowledge considerably within an eight-week period.
“One of the challenges the program still faces is to significantly increase students’ Chinese cultural awareness,” Yang says. “When I arrived in 2013, the UM flagship students significantly lacked this understanding, though they were able to speak pretty fluent Chinese.”

With their Chinese roommates, UM students visit Confucius Temple in central Shanghai.

That was a serious problem that needed to be addressed, as native speakers of Chinese expect an equal amount of cultural understanding from someone who can speak fluent Chinese.
“Eastern and Western cultures are just too different, and our current teaching team infuses culture insights into their daily teaching,” Yang says. “However, their cultural progress does not come as fast as their linguistic success.”
The university’s CLFP Shanghai program is open to taking students from the other 11 flagship programs.
“Establishing our Shanghai program, which is very well-respected and replete with high standards, is another huge success that is very rewarding to me,” Yang says.
Since taking over the program in 2013, Yang has redesigned the curriculum, which has high standards, thematic courses, domain mentoring and, as mentioned, cultural preparation. Unlike some Chinese flagship programs around the country that offer only upper-level courses, the Ole Miss CLFP allows for entry at various skill levels.
The university also boasts one of the finest language teaching teams in the nation. Joining Yang are assistant professors Zhini Zeng and Amy Hsieh. All three professors have strong backgrounds in language pedagogy, second-language acquisition and proficiency training. The program has three full-time instructors: Hui Zhu, Lin Zhu and Rongrong Hao. All have several years of experience teaching at both American institutions and with study abroad programs in China.

Beyond The Campus Border

During a Chinese language study abroad trip, students check out the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai.

By immersing themselves in the curriculum and with support from seasoned faculty, around 100 alumni of the program have successful careers in international business, public policy leadership, medicine and politics to name a few fields.

Instruction also extends beyond the borders of the Oxford campus.
“We have seeded Chinese instruction at Oxford, Lafayette and Holly Springs high schools,” Dyer says. “More than 10 students from OHS have matriculated into our flagship program. Students come here from all over the country to study Chinese at a high level.”
Students enrolled in the program are singing their praises of the professors’ instruction and the valuable learning opportunities received.
Last year, Tai participated in the CLFP’s capstone year, which students typically complete as a final fifth year of their Chinese studies after graduation. She had the opportunity to participate in the program early.
“I spent one semester taking both intensive Chinese classes and master’s classes in Chinese at Nanjing University for the fall semester, and one semester doing an internship at a digital marketing and branding agency in Shanghai,” Tai says. “The internship was a very fulfilling experience, as I was able to experience a modern Chinese work environment for five full months. Through the marketing work, I gained technical skills and cultural knowledge that have both been extremely helpful in my job search this year.”

“Hopefully I’ll be working in the Pentagon or at an embassy abroad, using my language skills and experience to foster better relationships with our foreign friends and adversaries.” – Connor Clark

Tai plans to work in U.S.-China relations as a business consultant for PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a large international accounting and consulting firm with offices in Hong Kong.
“My Chinese speaking, reading and writing skills gave me a distinct advantage in getting the job and will continue to be an asset to the company as we further develop business in the China region,” Tai says. “People that are fluent in English yet can seamlessly blend into the Chinese environment are considered valuable for interaction with Chinese company clients.”
Other experiences that directly resulted from Tai’s participation in the program include attending the annual flagship program summit at the University of Maryland and joining the 100,000 Strong campaign to promote Chinese language learning.
Prospective job opportunities in the international business arena are what drew Conner Clark, an international studies major, to the UM Chinese flagship program. The senior from Dallas also participated in the capstone year.
“During the first semester, we were direct enrolled at Nanjing University,” Clark says. “For the second semester, we applied to whichever organizations that we were interested in and completed a full-time internship for a minimum of 16 consecutive weeks. This second semester was the most fulfilling for me.”
Clark interned at a nonprofit Chinese nongovernmental organization called Yunnan Parallel, which aims to alleviate cultural misunderstanding of the LGBTQ community and educate the local population and students about safe sex.
“One reason this was such an amazing experience is because of the people I was able to meet and the context in which I was able to do so,” he says. “Because our organization was a safe place where all who came could feel free to be themselves, I was able to meet and begin to understand a hidden group in Chinese society that not many people even know exist. Meeting these people, hearing their stories, being on the front line in this fight for recognition and equal rights was an invaluable experience that I will have with me the rest of my life.”
Henrietta Yang teaches students in the Chinese Language Flagship Program.

James DeMarshall, a junior Chinese and international studies double major with a minor in mathematics, says he knew the Ole Miss program would make him proficient in the language.
“The culture of this program is infectious,” says the native of Glassboro, N.J. “Everyone is very supportive of each other, almost like a big family. When I visited campus and sat in on classes, I knew I wanted to be part of this special atmosphere the flagship program has cultivated here.”
Having studied consecutive summers in Shanghai and Harbin, DeMarshall learned he was awarded a U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to spend summer 2016 studying in the city of Xi’an in China’s Shaanxi province. He is the incoming president of the UM chapter of a non-profit, nonpartisan organization called Global China Connection, of which the CLFP has been supportive.
“I recently had the opportunity to travel to New York City to participate in a conference for GCC, and I was one of maybe 10 or 15 non-Chinese people in attendance,” he says. “As the event went on, I realized how far my Chinese had come in such a really short period of time spent here at Ole Miss. I was able to comfortably function in Chinese, which made it easier for me to network and connect with all the other young professionals in attendance. In essence, there was no language barrier. I can entirely thank the UM Flagship program for that capability.”

Favorite Classes

“There is something truly unique and special about studying the affairs of another country in its own native language. In a way, you garner a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complexities of the topic. it also encourages you to check any biases or preconceived notions at the door, and think more like a native speaker.”
-James DeMarshall

The Domain Mentorship class, taught by Jizhe Zhang, is DeMarshall’s favorite course he’s taken so far.

“The purpose of this class is to train you to speak competently and professionally in whatever ‘domain’ you have chosen to study. For me, that is the Chinese economy, its banking sector and international trade,” DeMarshall says. “There is something truly unique and special about studying the affairs of another country in its own native language. In a way, you garner a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complexities of the topic. It also encourages you to check any biases or preconceived notions at the door, and think more like a native speaker.”
Both Tai and Clark have fond memories of their favorite Chinese courses and their professors as well.
“My favorite course was our Chinese Media Studies class,” Tai says. “During the class, we covered a broad range of topics that exposed the changing dynamics within China’s modernizing society. I believe that my Chinese language skills, as well as my understanding of socioeconomic factors in China, expanded dramatically over the course of this class.”
Classical Chinese was Clark’s favorite course.
“Zhu Hui Laoshi is probably one of the sweetest teachers you’ll ever have. On top of that, she’s good at what she does: She makes learning Classical Chinese fun and relatively easy,” he says. “If you think conversational Chinese is hard, try studying a form of Chinese that uses, say, four characters to say what normal people today would use an entire sentence – or sometimes even a few sentences – to say.”

What’s Next

Tai and Clark are already planning ways to support the program after graduation.

“I think my most valuable form of support would be as a connection for younger flagship students in their own internship or job searches, just as another older flagship student has been for me,” Tai says. “Our UM Chinese flagship community is growing in the China region, which will only benefit the younger students that seek to work there as well.”
After graduation, Clark will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
“Hopefully I’ll be working in the Pentagon or at an embassy abroad, using my language skills and experience to foster better relationships with our foreign friends and adversaries,” he says. “The U.S. Air Force and military is tirelessly working to develop airmen who better understand other societies and cultures. I would like to be a part of this shift in U.S. foreign military policy.
“I will always be willing to be a resource for future undergraduate students and will look into supporting some of these programs financially as well,” he adds.
DeMarshall says he plans to live and work in China.
“I believe my familiarity with China and the ability to speak the language will absolutely make me more competitive in an increasingly globalized labor force,” he says. “But more importantly, I hope to spend a portion of my life living and working in China, which I have fallen in love with through the study of its language.”
As a result of the Chinese program’s success, the modern languages department applied for an Arabic flagship program in 2015. Although the request was not granted, the university’s Arabic program is good enough to achieve flagship status, Dyer says.
“Our Arabic program is also exceptional, modeled after Chinese, and reaching the same level of productivity and success,” he says.
Meanwhile, Yang is anticipating even greater levels of success for the Chinese program.
“We are preparing for as many as 19 students for capstone next year,” she says. “Ours has dominated among the 12 Chinese flagship programs in the past two years. I would have to agree that UM has the best Chinese flagship program in the country.”

By Edwin Smith

This story was reprinted with permission from the Ole Miss Alumni Review. The Alumni Review is published quarterly for members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association. Join or renew your membership with the Alumni Association today, and don’t miss a single issue.

For questions, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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