Monday, August 22, 2011

Conclusion: Summer Fellows 2011 Taiwan

As I said goodbye to my classmates and teachers, I could not help but think when I would return to Taiwan. This summer went by very quickly, full of time well spent on studying and meeting new friends. I know that these eight weeks that I spent at the International Language Chinese Program not only improved my Chinese, but also gave me valuable experiences that would help me in the near future.

My biggest problem going into ICLP was my speaking and listening skills. I remember that during my first week in Taiwan, the street vendors were so perplexed by my Chinese that they would feel the need to repeat the price in English. I was also self-conscious, so I avoided speaking as much as possible. In my first cab ride from the airport, I didn’t say a single word to the driver in those thirty minutes (except a ‘xiexie’ when I got off). In those first two weeks of classes, I thought to myself, am I really going to pick up this language? What if I return to GW without much improvement?

I think the two biggest reasons that I was able to improve my speaking and listening were ICLP’s teaching approach and the quality of the teachers. Because class sizes were incredibly small, I was able to use class time to the fullest extent to participate in discussions. Since all of the class sessions focused on oral exercises (I only got tested on reading and writing on the midterm exam), they were perfect to fill my needs. I also need to thank all of my teachers who were all highly trained. Their teaching approach was direct but nevertheless interactive, weaving together sentence patterns and vocabulary exercises with questions about personal thoughts and experiences. I was impressed with their level of patience. When students hesitated to think or rephrase their sentences, teachers generally waited to hear the complete thought before making corrections. I frequently jumble up word orders, so I appreciated my teachers letting me take my time with my answers.

I return to GW with a greater confidence in expressing myself. Although I still stutter or mix up words, I can get my message across without resorting to English. At the airport on my way out of Taiwan, I noticed the employees at the souvenir shops switched from English to Chinese to speak to me after they knew that I understood Chinese.

I think the greatest benefit in ICLP outside of learning Chinese was getting to know students from across the country. Although the vast majority was from American institutions, it was a diverse mix of students from different regions. I admired their diligence, and they were great motivators for me to continue working hard throughout the program. A great number of them, like me, were studying international relations, political science or Asian studies. Naturally, we shared much in common to talk about. Through conversations with them outside of class, I learned much more beyond the realms of language.

I am incredibly grateful for GW’s generous scholarship in giving me this opportunity to study at the International Chinese Language Program. Without GW’s help, it would have been difficult for me to participate in such a well-established program. I will go back to Washington with a higher level of Chinese, and a network of friends from various universities. My only regret is that I cannot extend my stay.

Kazunori Koyama
B.A., International Affairs 2012
Taipei, Taiwan

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