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Harvard Opens Academy in Beijing

By Megan C. Harney, Crimson Staff Writer

This summer, the Harvard Beijing Academy will offer Harvard students their first opportunity to study abroad in China for course credit. The nine-week intensive summer program aims to allow students to completely immerse themselves in the Chinese language and culture while taking language classes at Beijing Language University.

The creation of the program is the latest move in an ongoing effort by the College to encourage students to pursue an alternative cultural experience during their undergraduate careers. Last spring’s curricular review recommended that 25 percent of students—about 200 per class, per semester—should study abroad each term. Currently, only 11 percent do so.

Currently, the College maintains only one active study abroad program, in Santiago, Chile. Jane Edwards, director of the two-year-old Office of International Programs, told the Crimson in June that she hopes to open up program centers in South Asia, Africa, Greece, the United Kingdom and Mexico.

The impetus for the Academy, according to Director Shengli Feng, who is also the director of the Chinese Language Program at Harvard, was that previously, students who wanted to study in China had to rely on other universities’ programs. Princeton and Stanford, for example, both have well-established study abroad programs in China.

“Some of these programs are good, others are not,” Feng said. “Other programs may not be ideal for [Harvard students] because we want students to study not only the language, but the society.”

To this end, Feng said that the Havard Beijing Academy will require students to conduct social field research on some aspect of Chinese culture.

Students at the Academy will have the opportunity to learn traditional Chinese arts such as “taiji, martial arts, calligraphy, cooking or Chinese instruments,” according to the program’s website.

An additional unique feature of Harvard’s program will be the emphasis on written grammar.

“It’s not that hard to find someone who can speak Chinese fluently, but it is rare to find anyone who can write professional Chinese properly,” Feng said.

Though all students will be required to sign a pledge promising to speak only Chinese during the duration of the program, the Academy is open to any student who has completed one year of college-level Chinese.

The program, which will cost $4,500, will ask applicants for the 60 available spots—also open to non-Harvard students—to submit written statements in both Chinese and English as well as a tape-recorded spoken statement in Chinese.

Though the faculty who crafted Harvard’s program—many of whom have experience with other study abroad programs—strove to create something new, they examined other existing programs.

Princeton’s program began its eight-week intensive program in 1993 with close to 100 students. Last year, 140 students participated, according to Chih-p’ing Chou, professor and director of the Chinese Language Program at Princeton and director of Princeton in Beijing.

Seamus E. McKiernan ’06, who particiapted in the Princeton program last summer, said he enjoyed his experience and the fact that Princeton employed Chinese teachers, unlike other programs which bring in American teachers. Feng said Harvard’s program would employ teachers from both China and the United States.

McKiernan said he would consider applying to Harvard’s program if he decided to go abroad again as an undergraduate.

“If there’s any drawback to Princeton’s program, it may be that [because of the rigor] you miss out on some of the culture,” McKiernan said. “Any interaction you can have with the people, especially the rural people who have not had much interaction with Americans, much less foreigners, is very beneficial.”

Many students taking courses in East Asian Languages and Civilizations have expressed interest in the Harvard Beijing Academy.

David Lou ’08, who was born in Beijing but moved to the U.S. at the age of two, said he is considering applying to improve his fluency in Mandarin, “to be in touch with family in China...because they speak very little English.”

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