Three students from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff participated in a virtual study-abroad course that focused on learning the Mandarin language.
The 14-week course was organized by the China U.S. Exchange Foundation in collaboration with the China-HBCU Network. (HBCU stands for historically black colleges and universities.)
Pamela Moore, associate dean for global engagement, Office of International Programs and Studies at UAPB, nominated the students to participate in this first study-abroad/language learning course offered virtually at UAPB.
"We received notification about this unique opportunity early last semester when we were typically engaged with the international student clearance processes. However, I made it a priority to get the word out to as many students as possible," Moore said. "Even during the pre-covid-19 context, we worked with the Department of English, Humanities and Foreign Language to provide an introductory course for students planning to travel to China."
Sadagicous Owens, a UAPB spring 2021 graduate of industrial technology management and applied engineering, said she took the course because of her fascination with learning another language, particularly an Asian language.
"This course was a way for me to meet my medical school language requirement," she said. "Now, I can speak the common greetings, use main focused gestures, correctly pronounce words, and I can understand a new culture."
Me'Auna Bailey, a junior business administration and management major, said she registered for the class to gain a glimpse into the Asian culture.
"I am a sucker for my culture and the culture of others," she said. "I love that I was taught the language but that I also got glimpses into the culture as well."
Digvijay Mohite is pursuing his master's degree in agricultural regulations. He said he wanted to better understand global trade relations with China, trade wars, stock markets and cultural differences between the two civilizations.
"Being an international student from India, I was able to view as a third person without any bias the true situation and to understand each side much better," he said. "[The course] helped me to understand Chinese culture and basic Chinese lifestyle while making new friends. I also got an idea about how the Chinese government functions and the economic differences between the two nations."
The Virtual Mandarin Course was attended by 26 HBCU students from seven universities, said Julia Wilson, chief executive officer and founder of Wilson Global Communications USA.
All students had to be enrolled in an HBCU and be beginners in Mandarin. They submitted applications that included a brief paragraph on their interest in learning Mandarin and Chinese culture. The students had to commit to attending every class virtually for the 14 weeks and meeting with tutors and group members to practice Mandarin speaking skills.
"Students were engaged in Mandarin language classes taught by a Chinese language professor from Beijing Foreign Studies University," Wilson said. "The HBCU students were also assigned Chinese student tutors to practice the language one on one. By the end of the course, they were able to conduct a conversation in Mandarin."
With the travel restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, the Virtual Mandarin Course was a way to continue offering study abroad programs through the HBCU-China Network, she said.
"With China being the second-largest economy in the world, next to the United States, we believe it is imperative for HBCU students to have opportunities to understand Chinese language and meet their counterparts to form positive international relationships; become more internationally competitive; and assist them in future world leadership," Wilson said.
By engaging remotely, the students were able to meet their foreign counterparts and enjoy a study-abroad experience this academic year without traveling, she said.
Moore hopes the course will continue to be offered in the future.
"I certainly hope that this virtual course continues because the pilot course we introduced several years ago is no longer being offered due to financial constraints," Moore said. "Because of the complexity of the Chinese language and differences between our society and that of China, students are better able to adapt once they are on the ground in that country.
"Now that we are hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel regarding the covid-19 pandemic, I hope that we will once again send students to China for language and cultural learning experiences," Moore said.
Debbie Archer is an Extension associate-communications with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.