From small-town Arkansas to New England to the Far East...
For eight weeks, Tice Brown will work, sleep, play, eat and speak Chinese — no English will be allowed.
This summer, he’ll be spending eight weeks in Beijing in an intensive language program.
Right now, Brown is majoring in chemistry and chemical biology with a minor in Chinese and also a minor in government. He has now completed two years of intensive Mandarin Chinese classes at Harvard.
Harvard students spend six semesters to get a citation, or degree, in their language of choice. Brown’s latest teacher was a 50-ish “stern, strict” grandmotherly type named Xuedong Wang. “She’s been quite an inspiration.”
Each year, Harvard sends professors to the Beijing Institute’s summer language academy.
“My teachers all go and they encourage us to apply,” Brown said.
Each year, a handful of Harvard students spend one or two semesters in residence at language schools in China — typically at the best known universities in China and Taiwan. Brown applied, and he was chosen to receive a very selective Asia Center Language Grant for his study.
The Harvard-Beijing academy sees hundreds of applicants but only has slots for 80 language students, or about 20 in each section, Brown said. Sixty of the 80 are from Harvard, and the rest are from schools such as Princeton, Yale or the University of Chicago.
Although his tuition is paid, Brown still has to pay airfare, which he said has gone up because of fuel prices and the Olympics.
Brown will be leaving June 12 and will arrive home Aug. 27. The first week, he said, he’s going to stay with his Harvard roommate, who lives in Shanghai, then go on to Beijing.
“We take a language pledge the day we get there,” Brown said. The students pledge not to speak any language except Mandarin Chinese until final exams. The only exception is calling parents/family back home.
“If you violate the pledge, they can send you home,” Brown said. The policy may seem strict, but Brown said both Harvard and China are strict, and combined the two are “overly strict.”
But, he said, being allowed to speak only one language for a time will improve his language skills.
He’ll be in class probably from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and although evenings are free, he’ll have “a considerable amount of homework,” especially considering that students will have a year’s worth of study crammed into eight weeks.
“It’s a pretty intense program,” he said.
Another reason to buckle down and study: “These grades will go on a Harvard transcript,” Brown said.
There is a 16-hour time difference, Brown continued, but he’s used to going on little sleep due to studying for final exams or finishing papers.
Although he’ll spend quite a bit of time in the classroom, Brown plans to “hit” some of the culture sights with girlfriend Siodhbhra Parkin.
The two have tickets to the 2008 Summer Olympics and will see some table tennis matches (Brown enjoys playing), and see the gold medal fencing matches (Parkin is a fencer).
Brown said he’s had hepatitis, typhoid and tetanus shots to get ready for his trip, noting that China is not a third world country but is a developing country. He said with people living on wages of less than a dollar a day, there are worries about pickpockets, and he will be bringing all of his toiletries and over-the-counter medicines with him, rather than use those in China.
Brown also said few Chinese go on to college, and for those who do, “the dorms, so we’ve been told, are a whole lot nicer than any in the U.S. They’re like a hotel. They change our sheets and towels every day,” he said.
“It’s going to be an adventure,” he said.