In its first year offered, the Qiguang Zhao Memorial Fund is already having a significant impact—in particular, it’s helped Cindy Chen ’18 reconnect with her heritage. An Asian studies major from Brooklyn, New York, Chen spent last summer studying Mandarin in Kunming, in China’s Yunnan Province.
“I grew up speaking Cantonese with my mom at home,” Chen says. “But I grew up in the United States, so I wasn’t truly fluent—I couldn’t read it or write it.”
Because neither her high school nor Carleton offered courses in Cantonese, Chen eventually decided to take up Mandarin. “It was a way for me to read and write in Chinese,” she says. “I felt that was important because as I grew older, I was losing much of my ability to speak Cantonese. I thought learning Mandarin would help.”
Chen began Mandarin classes as a sophomore at Carleton and worked through intermediate level courses, yet she still didn’t feel completely ready for advanced classes. The immersive summer program helped her bridge that gap. While speaking Mandarin all day was challenging, Chen says, it helped her language skills immensely. Every morning she had classes at Yunnan University, followed by conversation time with lead teachers, student teachers, and peers. On weekends the cohort took excursions off campus, including one trip to the nearby city of Dali.
Chen is one of approximately 70 percent of Carls who participate in at least one study abroad program before graduating, and because the college strives to make these opportunities available to every Carl, resources like the Zhao fund are crucial. Created in honor of beloved Carleton professor Qiguang Zhao, who died in 2015, the fund supports low- and middle-income students participating in summer study programs in China.
“Since I’m a first-generation college student and my family is low-income, I never would have been able to go on this program without the Zhao scholarship,” Chen says.