By Sudha Kamath
George Mason University is bridging learning platforms across the globe. The three top winners of China’s national English Speaking Contest are on George Mason’s Fairfax Campus July 6‒19—immersing themselves in Mason’s renowned summer Institute of Forensics as it marks its 10th anniversary.
Yi Jin of Shantou University, Alex Guo of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Yan Chen of Nanjing University admittedly have been adjusting to jet lag after a 23-hour flight. But they’re sharpening their oratorical, extemporaneous and interpretive public speaking skills at the summer institute.
The 13- to 17-year-old U.S. high school students who are part of this summer’s institute have been asking questions of their Chinese counterparts—about language, food, family and government. All three of the Chinese students say their English fluency is helping them get to know the U.S. students.
Guo, 20, is on his first trip to the United States. Forensics didn’t come naturally to him; he’s an engineering major. But he managed to win the English Speaking Contest without any coaching. He concedes pop culture references by the American teens in the camp can be tricky to understand, but Guo is determined to continue his American journey. He hopes to apply to U.S. graduate schools.
Jin, an English language and literature major, says it’s “really amazing to see how talented the younger students are.”
And there’s no debate that the Chinese students are learning personal lessons. Jin, 23, is on her second visit to the United States. “I realized I was having stereotypes about how Americans should behave. But I’m trying to see the similarities, not the differences. I’m trying to see all of us are human beings first.”
Chen, 18, is an English language and literature major who’s especially excited about learning new techniques in forensics. “Being here requires guts. I’ve learned you can’t stay passive. You have to throw yourself into everything,” she insists.
The Chinese students say that although there is no forensics training in their native tongue back home—only in English public speaking—they are grateful the Chinese government has encouraged foreign travel and studies in recent years. Guo traveled previously to Australia and Japan. He heads to Italy in the fall. Chen lived as a child in the United States for two years; she will be studying in the United Kingdom this fall.