A Taste of China When her Critical Language Scholarship to China went virtual because of COVID, Kisker '21 got a six-week sampler of the country and its language through her computer screen.
“…the CLS program was a wonderful way for me to get a glimpse of Chinese culture even though travel is prohibited. I am now super excited to dive into Chinese class again this winter.”
~ Maria Kisker ’21
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
Minors: Math, Chinese
Q: Why did you decide to study Chinese at W&L?
The first semester of my freshman year, I took German with Professor Paul Youngman, who encouraged me to study abroad at a partner institution in Germany. After spending the summer abroad, I knew I wanted to tackle learning a new language. In Germany, I met several people who were studying Chinese, which before had always seemed like an impossible language to learn. Once I determined that the challenge was a surmountable one, I was drawn to Chinese because it tied in well with my interest in foreign policy, and because I have relatives living in Shanghai.
Q: Tell us about the Critical Language Scholarship you received. How was the experience impacted by COVID-19?
Typically, the CLS program takes place over the summer, and students are sent to various locations throughout the world to study the language in an immersive environment. Because of the pandemic, the organization opted for an online version to be offered to a portion of the scholarship recipients. I was not offered a spot for the summer course, but luckily, the State Department decided to offer a second round of classes during the school year. I was very excited and grateful to be selected for the six-week intensive course they designed.
Because it was an online opportunity to be taken during the semester, programming was only between one to two hours daily. I naturally missed out on the compulsory conversation practice, spontaneous discoveries, and exploration of the country and its food that would have come with an in-country opportunity. Despite the obvious setbacks, the teachers and staff did everything they could to make the program as interactive as possible. For example, several times, our teachers walked up to people on the street while live streaming so that we could ask people, including an adorable third grader in a pink princess dress, questions in real time.
Q: Describe a typical day for you in the online CLS program.
Each day, I logged onto a virtual platform to discuss a text that we had just read, review new vocabulary, and talk about Chinese culture with my teacher and one other student. Our teacher also devoted five minutes at the beginning of class for “gossip,” so that we could all get to know about each other’s lives. Every Friday, rather than having a lesson, we did a virtual activity.
Q: What was your favorite activity?
One evening, the teachers all went to a hot pot restaurant called 海底捞 and livestreamed themselves ordering and cooking foods. This particular chain of restaurants is known for having long wait times and giving customers the option to receive a massage or manicure, or to play games and eat snacks while they wait. It was interesting to see in action a very different business model from American restaurants, to watch all of my teachers laughing and eating together, and even to watch one of my teachers eat a brain.
Q: What did you like most about participating in the program?
I really enjoyed talking with my language partner twice a week! Speaking with a Chinese teacher is very different than talking with someone who would be a peer. It was great to both improve my speaking and get to know a Chinese student my age who was going through the same job search process as I was.
Q: How do you think the program will impact the rest of your time at W&L and your life just after graduation?
I still have not had the opportunity to visit China, so the CLS program was a wonderful way for me to get a glimpse of Chinese culture even though travel is prohibited. I am now super excited to dive into Chinese class again this Winter. After graduation, I hope to continue to take Chinese language classes and one day travel to see my relatives in Shanghai. Director of Fellowships Matthew Loar and Associate Professor of Japanese Janet Ikeda were instrumental in helping me craft the application that made possible this opportunity to strengthen my interest in foreign policy and language.