'Cozy Campus' Offers Global Education

By I-Ping Fu, assistant professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature

I began teaching Chinese language at Radford University in fall 2000. In the 11 years since, I have never had the first regret about coming to this university I have grown to love.

Radford is a cozy campus, where students have broad exposure to solid educational opportunities. I love the small ratio of faculty to students, which means our students can easily establish close relationships with their professors. I love the close ties my department has with its faculty, which enable me to find the support I need to succeed.

I also love our advanced multimedia classrooms and language lab, facilities that not every university enjoys. Beyond the classroom, I love the staff members at Dalton Dining Hall, where I enjoy most of my lunches and dinners. They not only provide hearty food, they offer genuine friendship, feeding both body and soul. Furthermore, people in this community are extremely friendly. I remember vividly how I felt when I first arrived in Radford. I thought something was wrong with me because people I had never met were waving at me! I feel blessed to work in a community that is like a family, providing love and care.

I also feel fortunate to work with some of the best students at RU: the Zylphia Shu-En Kirk Scholars. These students study two years, or 16 hours, of Mandarin Chinese and, if they earn grades of B or better, receive partial stipends to study for five weeks in China. It is important for me to make sure my students learn not just the Chinese language but also the culture, which practices respect for elders, parents, teachers and government officials—this is the Chinese way.

Group in front of Great Wall.

Assistant Professor I-Ping Fu (center) poses with her students on the Great Wall of China.

Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn. The U.S. Defense Language Institute, which provides linguistic and cultural instruction to federal agencies, ranks the Spanish language as Level 1 and Chinese as Level 4. Yet interest in learning Chinese is increasing rapidly in the United States. A College Board study in April 2008 found 200 percent growth in Chinese language programs in K-12 schools since 2004. On college campuses, enrollment in Chinese classes rose 51 percent between 2002 and 2006, according to the Modern Language Association.

Many students want to learn Chinese for economic and political reasons. Others are simply curious or fascinated by the Chinese culture and language. It is not surprising to hear students say, “It is a difficult language to learn, yet it’s also a very beautiful and exotic language that I’m excited about learning.” Students take pride in studying Chinese, and they are motivated to come to class. If they could afford to do so, most say they would consider spending a summer studying in China and Taiwan. One student wrote in his reflection paper, “I knew that traveling to China would certainly broaden my understanding of culture, people and the world. I saw and experienced many things that most people never will!”

Over the past 11 years, my students and I have visited Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Xi’an, Dong Bei, Tsing Tao, Yun Nan, Kunming, Dali, Li Jiang, Shangri-la, Shanxi, Huang Shan, Nanjing and other places. We have transformed the travel program into a full five-week study abroad program.

As one student remarked, “I am more aware of the world outside my community and country. There are real issues in the world today, and it strikes a chord when you see these things in front of you. The trip has brought a reality to my life, and I will never again take my opportunities and knowledge for granted.”