Alumni Spotlight: 5 Questions for a Data Engineer Learning Chinese

This post was written by and originally featured on Lead with Languages, a national campaign supporting language learning. In this series, ACTFL reached out to students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors to ask five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success. Click here to read the original article.  

Meet Noah: A University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire graduate and USAC alumnus holding Bachelor of Business Administration degrees in Information Systems and International Business, as well as certificates in Chinese Language and Transnational Asian Studies. 

1. Some special circumstances—including a broken jaw and a wish to thank kind individuals in your local community—inspired you to first explore learning Mandarin. When did you begin taking formal Chinese classes? Could you share with us the impact of that first class? 

I took my first Chinese course in the fall of 2017, and that decision changed the trajectory of my life in so many ways. The beauty of the characters, the challenge of the grammar complexity and tones, and a supportive environment fostered by my Chinese professor, Professor Kong, quickly made Chinese my favorite course during my time at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire (UWEC). 

Noah explores Taipei.

2. You also served as an International Student Tutor during college: What did this role involve and what did you take away from the experience? 

It all started when Professor Kong gave us the opportunity to connect with native Chinese speakers/international students who had come to our university to study. Through valuable interactive in-class activities that promoted language and cultural exchange, I met Chinese students who were having to spend lots of time translating high-level assignments for their other classes. I wanted to help, so I started meeting with them to work on our Chinese and English together. 

Not only did I develop lasting friendships, but I also gained compassion for those learning a new language because my Chinese friend and I often had to work through difficult translations, pronunciations, and cultural nuances to work symbiotically and engage in cultural exchange. 

3. We’d love to hear more about the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) Chengdu summer study abroad program you completed in 2018. How did you learn about this opportunity, and what would you say is the biggest lesson you learned? 

UWEC’s Center for International Education (CIE) was paramount in my discovery of opportunities abroad. At the suggestion of my caring professor and with two semesters of Chinese under my belt at UWEC, I chose to study abroad in the summer of 2018 thanks to an email CIE had sent me regarding USAC’s offering. 

For six weeks, I took an intensive language course at Southwest Minzu University in Chengdu, China, with other students from across the U.S. 

Surrounded by strangers and relying on my ever-growing Chinese language skills 7,000 miles from home, I learned to be resilient, adaptive, and how to work well under pressure. 

Noah volunteers in a classroom.

4. You graduated with degrees in both Information Systems and International Business (in addition to language certificates). Could you share with us what influenced your choice of majors and how they intersect or relate? 

I felt immense gratification utilizing technology at a young age, so studying IT had always been my vision. During my general education credits at UWEC, I took Asian history courses, and they ignited a curiosity that pushed me to take countless courses on the region’s geography, politics, and economies. I enjoyed them so much that by the time I reached the end of my studies, I had enough credits to qualify for an International Business major and a certificate in Asian Studies. 

My Chinese certificate was by far my favorite non-major coursework, solely because of Professor Kong’s incredible teaching style. Offering hands-on activities such as dumpling making, holiday celebrations, and exposure to Chinese media and culture, you’re getting so much more than an education in language when you take a course with her! 

5. Most recently, you taught 5th and 6th grade Taiwanese students English as part of the Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program. Could you share a memorable anecdote or two with us from this experience—perhaps something that surprised you? 

I absolutely loved my time abroad and Fulbright Taiwan did a fantastic job of helping us safely embed ourselves amid a global pandemic. 

Not seeing another person for 14 days of a strict hotel quarantine offered a growth opportunity in and of itself but being able to live in a rapidly advancing tropical paradise was the experience of a lifetime. 

Outside of the countless meaningful moments I had in the classroom with the kids, I made the most of my time in Taiwan by doing things such as teaching myself how to ride a motorcycle, scuba diving, and lots of traveling around the island. 

Bonus: Complete this thought: “Learning another language means…” 

  • Learning another language means exposing yourself to new, life-changing opportunities. 
  • In my case, learning a language has given me meaningful travel experiences and a chance to meet and learn from amazing humans both domestically and abroad. 
  • For my Chinese friends at UWEC, it means accessing educational opportunities across the globe and cultivating an extremely marketable skill to set them apart when they return home. 
  • For my Taiwanese students, learning English helps them become globally connected and gain a better understanding of the world around them. 
  • Language learning serves as a connector between humans, a lesson in the importance of communication (and patience) and highlights the invaluable benefits of diverse perspectives. 
USAC offers language classes in more than 20 countries to help you meet your degree requirements or meet your personal goals. Click here to learn more about language learning with USAC.