As a senior in high school, I had no idea what I was looking for in a college, but I did know that I wanted to learn the Chinese language. When I visited UR, the admissions counselor I met with assured me that UR had a good Chinese program and even showed me the course listing in the guide.
“Great!” I thought. “Rochester is still in the running.”
I guess I spoke too soon. When I got here, I learned that I probably would not get to take Chinese my freshman year because there was a 20-student maximum and only one beginning class offered per semester.
“Well you’re probably going to be able to get into the class next year,” my adviser comforted me.
But considering there are only three years worth of Chinese offered at UR, perhaps this is for the best.
So my sophomore year I finally enrolled in Chinese 101 and met my teacher, Zhang Laoshi. I had a 50-minute recitation three days a week and class twice a week for an hour and 15 minutes.
One thing I quickly noticed, however, was that a large amount of my fellow students were already Chinese speakers. They already knew the grammatical structure that I struggled with, and their vocabularies were infinitely better than my own. However, I still had an advantage over some other students because I had gone to Chinese school when I was little and had some familiarity with the language.
This situation is unfair to the students who had never had any real exposure to the language and were brand new to the entire culture. Yet, we were still all clumped together in the beginning class and were held to the same expectations.
I learned later that before Zhang Laoshi came to work at UR, we had had no Chinese language program, simply because the first teacher had retired and the University did not bother to hire a new one. It was only due to student agitation that the University decided to hire another Chinese language teacher.
Personally, I find it very alarming that this school pays so little attention to a language that is so important in the world. Not only is Mandarin the most commonly spoken language on Earth, but China is rising in prominence and people with the ability to speak Chinese are in higher and higher demand.
The school does a great disservice to the student population by so severely limiting the amount of students who take Chinese each year and also by forcing people with such different skill levels into only three categories: beginning, intermediate and advanced-intermediate.
Zhang Laoshi is an extremely dedicated and hard-working teacher who always takes time out of her very busy schedule, teaching at two different schools, to help out her students. It is a shame that Chinese students don’t even get the same treatment as the Japanese students who have four years of language instruction and two teachers.
Hopefully someday soon the University will recognize the importance of the Chinese language and finally put some funding into a very vital program.
Woo is a member of the class of 2008.