College launches Asian Studies major

October 26, 2010

For about an hour, three times a week, the students in Ling-en Kang’s class are transformed into Chinese speakers.

That’s because for nearly the full hour, there is a simple rule that governs Room 017 in Hill Hall: No English allowed.

“The students really do a lot of talking in class,” said Kang, a native Taiwanese who has studied English for 10 years and moved to Westminster this summer to teach the Mandarin Chinese course. “They have to be well-prepared and ready to perform.”

For the first time in the college’s history, students are able to take a Chinese language course at McDaniel – and it’s all part of a new Asian Studies program, which the college launched this semester.

The Asian Studies program is designed as a comprehensive, multicultural and multidisciplinary examination of the history, society, arts, cultural traditions and contemporary significance of the nations and peoples of Asia, especially East Asia.

Students may soon be able to pursue a major or a minor in Asian Studies - pending approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission. In the meantime, they can take courses, which, in addition to language study, includes a broad range of classes from various departments in the humanities and social sciences.

“It has long been my dream to develop an Asian Studies program here at McDaniel," Susan Clare Scott, associate professor of Art and Art History and coordinator of the Asian Studies program. "Asia is the coming thing. Our students would be missing out on a lot if they aren’t given the chance to learn as much as possible about Asia.”

Scott teaches several Asian Art History classes, while Qin Fang, assistant professor of History, focuses on Asian History, and Greg Alles, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, offers courses in Asian religion and philosophy.

During the coming Jan Term, students also will have the opportunity to explore locales around China for 12 days on a study abroad trip being led by professors Deb Lemke of the Sociology department and Robin Armstrong of Music.

On this trip, students will visit ancient sites such as the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and the Great Wall of China. They’ll also meet local students and families to gain a better understanding of everyday life. Click here for additional information.

Back on campus, Kang uses a variety of techniques in class, including games that give students the chance to practice their speaking and vocabulary skills. During a recent session, they played a version of Bingo, in which Kang had given each student a particular persona (i.e., smart receptionist) and they had to ask each other questions in Chinese to figure out who was whom, and then they could mark off that box on their game cards. The first person to correctly fill out his or her game card won a small prize – a bag of Skittles from the vending machine.

In addition to teaching language skills, Kang share bits of Chinese culture during the final 10 minutes of each session. Students are also able to ask her questions about living in an Asian country.

Monika Lemke, a sophomore double major in German and Asian Studies as well as a minor in American Sign Language, said she enjoys the Chinese language course because of it’s highly “collaborative” atmosphere.

“We’re all new to this,” Lemke said of the class, which includes 13 students and two professors. “We’re trying something that’s new for us, and new for the college. We all help each other out a lot.”

Kang said that group mentality has made the class seem more like a family, and she has seen most of the students thrive as they work to master the tones of the language and the vocabulary. They’ll need that as they venture into learning how to write in Chinese, a skill that is even more difficult to acquire than speaking the language.

But Kang is optimistic about her students’ prospects.

“They’re a very supportive group,” Kang said. “They like to applaud whenever someone is doing something right.”