Noah Lande (2012-2018)

N. Lande

Q1: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO MAJOR IN CHINESE STUDIES AT DEPAUL UNIVERSITY?

NOAH: As with most decisions in my life, I ended up majoring in Chinese Studies on a relative whim. I was entering DePaul as a Jazz Performance major, but about two days before classes began, I woke up with a certain sense of terror and decided, in a stroke of passion, to change my major to Chinese. Well, it wasn’t truly that random. The summer before freshman year, I had happened across a high school classmate whose parents had emigrated here from Taiwan. Something had instigated him that day to bring his erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, and as he began to draw the bow to show me how that little instrument could sing, I was entranced by the sounds that rang off those two strings. My heart and intellect went wild. I started asking him about traditional Chinese music, which lead to a conversation about traditional Chinese art, then fashion, history, culture. Then language. LANGUAGE. Ah. That was the music I was looking for. To demonstrate, he said a few words, a few sentences, and when he saw how much I was digging it, he drove off the road and let loose strings and sheets of rapid Chinese. The twisting tones, consistent rhythms, and succinctness of sound, not to mention the delicate intricacies of the characters which he began to write down for me—I decided right then and right there to engage in serious studies of the Chinese language. He was thrilled. His eyes glowed. He enthusiastically promised to teach me for one hour every day, and that’s how I fell in love with Chinese—and perhaps out of love with jazz. One form of music for another. So when I woke up that one morning with cold feet, Chinese seemed like a pretty rational major to change to.

Q2: WHAT WERE THE SIGNIFICANT EVENTS THAT SHAPED YOU DURING YOUR DEPAUL YEARS? HOW?

NOAH: In 2014, DePaul’s Chinese Department offered me a Chinese government scholarship (CSC) to study for one semester in Beijing. This was singlehandedly the best academic decision I made in all my years at DePaul. In the months before accepting the scholarship, my interest in Chinese was losing that initial fire, but as soon as I landed in Beijing, I knew I was still on the right path. Living in China did not only kick my Chinese into high gear, but it was there, face to face with the people and a new way of life, that I realized how much I inherently gelled with and appreciated the culture. Just about every weekend, after a mind-numbing week of intensive Chinese studies, I would walk along the street gathering a variety of oily bites and chatting with the vendors, and bring my food to the local park where I’d shoot the bull with elderly Chinese men and women. These interactions were engaging and personal, and they fueled my interest for the country, its people, and its language. They also left me with an accent that sometimes resembles that of an old Beijing man with a cigarette hanging off his lip.

Another memorable event for me was the Chinese New Year Gala this past year, as I was given the opportunity to be an MC. Now, I’ve always been one to shy away from the stage, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to serve as one of the representatives of DePaul’s Chinese Department at its biggest annual celebration on campus. For the first few acts, my hands were shaking, and I bet my voice was as well, but there was a certain thrill in cracking jokes in Chinese in front of however many hundreds of people there were in attendance. The whole experience felt surreal. It was the perfect conclusion to my time at DePaul, and it made me feel like I actually accomplished something after all those years scribbling characters and memorizing grammar structures in my room.

Q3: WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? WHAT IS YOUR FUTURE PLAN?

NOAH: I’m currently working at the Chinese Consulate General here in Chicago. My job position, which translates literally as secretary, is really part-secretary/part-translator/part-journalist, but maybe I’m just glorifying the realities of the job. One of my main responsibilities is hunting down relevant news articles and editorials covering all nine states of the Midwest and summarizing them into Chinese. Regardless of the specific job title, what I do at work forces me to keep my Chinese sharp and on the rise, and for that, I am grateful. And ever so slightly exhausted.

With regards to the future, there are a hundred and one things I want to do, and thus I have no idea what I will actually be doing. Perhaps I need another old classmate of mine to come along with an instrument and feed me with absolute certainty about my next step. I’ve considered translation, education, journalism, and even healthcare, but we’ll have to see where the wind blows. I do know one thing, however, and that is I will undoubtedly integrate Chinese into whatever career I step into. At the end of the day, the ambiguity of my future doesn’t weigh over me—rather, I feel quite liberated.

Q4: WHAT SUGGESTIONS CAN YOU GIVE CURRENT STUDENTS IN THE DEPAUL CHINESE STUDIES PROGRAM IN ORDER TO IMPROVE THEIR CHINESE LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY AND DEVELOP A CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING OF CHINA?

NOAH: Surround yourself with the language. Surround yourself with the culture. Two of the most valuable things I’ve done to improve my language skills and reignite and sustain my passion for the culture are working in Chinese restaurants and moving to Chinatown. In the restaurants I worked at, every interaction, whether with the majority of customers, my fellow servers, the chefs, or the boss, was conducted in Chinese. Being yelled at in the thick of an evening rush while trying to balance an armful of plates was critical for improving my listening comprehension skills. No sarcasm intended. And with regards to living in Chinatown; rubbing my morning eyes while a flurry of dialogue in a variety of Chinese dialects breaks through my window; walking home at night through a maze of exciting smells and beautiful, bold characters shining down from storefront signs—these are the subtle details of life that remind me of my love for Chinese. I’m not saying everyone needs to go to their favorite Chinatown restaurant and submit a job application or even move to Chinatown, but the main point is, situate yourselves in environments that are flooding over with Chinese. This is hardly a novel or insightful recommendation, but is truly the one thing that has made the most significant impact on my Chinese.

In terms of gaining a critical understanding of China, there’s no better way than to take thought-provoking classes and read broadly. But apart from the obvious, I’ve learned a fair amount about China, particularly with regards to its societal and cultural aspects, through interactions with Chinese friends and strangers alike. Everyone analyzes the trends of and understands their country from a unique perspective, so engaging with a wide swath of the population—with people of different age groups, from different fields, etc.—is beneficial in forming your own ideas of the country.

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Andrew Hardy, BA, Chinese Studies (2011-2014)

Andrew Hardy 

Q1: Why did you choose to major in Chinese Studies at DePaul University?

A: I chose to study Chinese because I had no idea what I wanted to do and I was interested in everything. I had always really enjoyed learning languages, so I thought learning a new language would be fulfilling and leave me with a tangible new skill after graduation. I chose Chinese because it seemed that it would open up a lot of opportunities related to China’s increasing economic and political power. Also, learning Chinese is quite a challenge, and that attracted me. Lastly, I felt that it would expose me to a totally different cultural world with its own philosophical, religious, and aesthetic traditions. I thought there was no way that wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Q2: What were the significant events that shaped you during your DePaul years? How?

A: Professor Angelika Cedzich teaches a class called Literature and Religion in China, which was one of the most inspiring and fascinating classes I took at DePaul. It covers so much in so short a time, from creation myths to modern Chinese diaspora literature, and it confronted me at every turn with challenges to assumptions I never knew I had. Although that class reminded me of my passion for the humanities—literature, history, religion—I still thought I would end up in international business or the foreign service. I continued to focus on modern Chinese and went to China three times for intensive study, spending altogether more than a year and half living there. Those times were also really influential. My language skills of course benefited dramatically, and I grew a lot personally and intellectually. I especially learned about how genuinely difficult it is to interact with people who have different values and beliefs, how to acknowledge the particularity of my own background and see how my own mind is shaped by culture and ideology. At some point during this time, my interest in pre-modern history and literature pushed me to study Classical Chinese, and that ended up being a turning point. It’s a beautiful language, extremely rich in vocabulary, rhythmic, stylistically neat and economical. I was so fascinated and thrilled by the access that learning this language gave me to a world so distant in time and place, I decided to go into academia and keep learning for as long as I could.

Q3: What are you doing now? What is your future plan?

A: This coming fall I will start at the MA in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, where I will develop my interest in early Chinese history (Warring States through the Han Dynasty) while preparing for a PhD.

Q4: What suggestions can you give current students in the DePaul Chinese Studies Program in order to improve their Chinese language proficiency and develop a critical understanding of China?

A: In terms of language proficiency, a good way to stay motivated is to use the language to explore interests outside of the language itself. Nothing is more stifling than reading something boring in Chinese just because it’s in Chinese. Not only will that kill your interest, it can also lead to some pretty stilted impressions of Chinese culture. Instead, find a blog or TV show on a topic that you are already interested in and follow it. Instead of meeting with a language partner for an hour of structured conversation, go do something fun with them and just speak Chinese while you do it. In this way the language becomes a means to access something you enjoy, and practice has benefits other than purely the internalization of new vocabulary, idioms and grammatical structures.

Developing a critical understanding of China, like anything, depends significantly on the variety of perspectives you are able to see from. Lots of Chinese Studies programs now emphasize modern/contemporary China and are geared towards the social sciences. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that the importance of pre-modern studies is vastly underestimated. In the same way that we shouldn’t make the Eurocentric assumption that nothing significant can be learned from studying non-Western cultures, we should also not assume that “modernity” is the only time period worth paying attention to. Plus, an ahistorical image of a culture makes it too easy to reduce that culture to stereotypes. Taking a look at history and other humanistic disciplines reveals the paradoxes, richness, and complexity that can give you a solid, critical foothold.