The Chinese Language Flagship program at the University of Mississippi is one of 10 programs like it in the nation, and the only one of its kind in the SEC. It gives students an opportunity to study the Chinese language over an extended period of time, learn Chinese culture and study abroad in China.
It began in the fall of 2000 when officials from Washington came and asked if the University would be interested in a new concept.
“They were thinking about introducing a new concept to higher education, a new way of teaching and conveying proficiency in Chinese, Arabic and several other languages,” said Michael Metcalf, associate provost for international affairs.
“This was an opportunity to apply for funding from the federal government to increase our faculty in Chinese and to get a lot of scholarship money to support the prolonged study of Chinese, with the goal of students achieving very high levels of proficiency in the language.”
Metcalf wrote the grant proposal and is now one of the administrative directors of the program, a position shared with Donald Dyer, chair and professor of modern languages.
“The Flagship, as a concept, is a series of language programs across the country at universities that are willing to develop the language teaching pedagogy to take students all the way to their highest level of ability,” Dyer said. “In the case here we were willing to start over again to create a new mold for how to teach Chinese. We hired the right people and we were up and running in 2003.”
There are currently about 60 students in the Flagship program, and Dyer estimates that another 30 will be brought in this summer. This year there were close to 70 applicants to the program and around 40 were accepted. Twenty-five of those students have already committed to enter the program this summer.
“We have a great combination to offer them,” Dyer said. “A lot of the students are coming here to do Chinese and international studies, the Croft Institute’s program.”
Students from all over the nation including California, Arizona, Chicago and the Midwest have come to UM to participate in the Language Flagship program.
“It has attracted people from outside of the normal recruiting area of Ole Miss,” Metcalf said.
This past fall, the faculty has grown from a faculty of one to a faculty of five, adding two professors and three instructors.
“The department really didn’t have Chinese at the time, and now, the program has been so successful I think we are almost known for our Chinese, and we like that a lot,” Dyer said.
There are nearly 30 programs like this across the country that teach Chinese and other languages such as Arabic or Korean, which are important for economic and defense purposes.
Some students come to UM for a chance to participate in the Flagship program and, more specifically, for Chinese.
“I can’t give you statistics about the numbers of students who have chosen Ole Miss specifically because of the program, but anecdotally I can tell you at least a half-dozen have told me they have,” said Metcalf. “It’s been a tipping factor at the end.”
The Flagship program is a five-year program. Almost all of the students reach an advanced level of proficiency, and some move on to reach superior, the highest proficiency level.
The students are tested throughout their five years and have benchmarks that they are expected to reach. The Flagship program is competitive and constantly challenges its students.
“It’s the kind of program where if you don’t succeed, you can’t just move onto the next level,” Dyer said. “Our funding, the existence of the program, is predicated on students reaching this level, and if they don’t, the program doesn’t exist. We can’t afford to let students continue on who aren’t going to make it.”
Students come in the summer before their freshman year and are in class five hours a day, five days a week for two months and have tutoring at night.
“It’s pretty rigorous,” Dyer said. “But it’s what you have to do to get to this level of proficiency.”
Most students come in the summer before their freshman year and they study for two months. Freshman year, they have a class in the fall and a class in the spring.
Once the freshman year is complete, the students are off to China for nine weeks.
Then they complete sophomore year, and most students return to China.
The students in the Croft Institute have a mandated semester abroad, and most take that in China during their junior year.
There is a fourth year at UM, and the fifth year is spent entirely in China.
The fall semester of the fifth year, the student is enrolled directly in Nanjing University as if he were a Chinese student. In the spring, the students stay in China and work as an intern at a variety of companies.
After graduation, the students are presented with various opportunities. Some choose to stay and work in China, some come back stateside to work for international companies and some choose to go to graduate school in different subjects and keep up their Chinese.
However, the students do not have a required government obligation which many of the other programs have.
“The success of the program, the success of the students in the program has set the standard for language learning at the University because these are truly outstanding results we are getting from the program,” Metcalf said.
From the DM by Ave Mayeux