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UNH Students in a Virtual Pen Pal Exchange with Chinese Students

Release Date:
4/15/2013 9:00 AM
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China, Wellington Wang sculpture, features Detail from a Shoushan soapstone carving from the Wellington Wang Collection at UNH

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- John McGlynn was Skyping with his Chinese language partner, practicing Mandarin as she practiced English, when she asked if he would sing “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit single. 

“She’s fascinated by American music, so I obliged,” said McGlynn, a UNH junior. “We’re pretty good friends already.”

McGlynn is one of seven UNH students studying Mandarin and taking part in a modern version of the pen pal exchange with eight students from Sanjiang University in Nanjing, China. Rather than pick up a pen and write, they Skype for an hour each week—the first half hour in Mandarin, the second in English. They cover specific course topics and allow time just to talk.

The eight Chinese students plan to study electrical engineering as juniors at UNH in 2014. First they must pass English language competencies, which is where the UNH students come in. Practice benefits all, said UNH Mandarin instructor Yeantying Liaw and Hanhua Xia, a professor and vice dean at Sanjiang. “This encourages them to work harder on language skills to be better prepared for their future studies at UNH,” Xia said.   

“They have learned so much already,” Liaw said. “I am very proud.”

Catherine Gentile, a junior criminal justice major from West Babylon, N.Y., said she likes playing a role in her partner’s learning. “He says his English is bad but it’s actually very good,” she said. “I try to build his confidence.”

The UNH students say their Mandarin has improved considerably in the few short weeks they have been talking together. They like having a glimpse into Chinese culture and, particularly, into the life of a fellow college student.

While they note differences – the Sanjiang students’ internet access shuts down promptly at 11 p.m. – what strikes them are their similarities. “They really like to talk about American movies and TV,” said Drew Millum, a freshman criminal justice major from Harwinton, Conn.

Stephanie Rosbach, a sophomore marine biology major from Hallsville, Mo., said when she poses a question she is really curious about, her worries about how she is speaking fall away. Brielle Vazquez, a sophomore communications major from the Bronx; Jenny Lam, a freshman accounting major from Malta, N.Y.; and Emilie Zhang, sophomore biology major from Brooklyn, agreed. Vazquez said the experience has heightened her interest in Asian culture and her desire to visit China.

UNH Associate Provost Ira Kleinfeld, who spearheaded the development of the program with the Chinese university, called the exchange “a big joy.” A year and a half in the planning, he said it likely will be replicated in other UNH modern language courses. “It’s everything you would want experiential learning to be,” he said.

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.