WKU students immerse into the Chinese culture

Francis Wilson

New to the Hill this fall is a home where students live together, cook together and study together all while speaking in a foreign language: Mandarin Chinese. 

Purchased by the WKU Office of International Programs, the Chinese Language Immersion House, located on 1523 Chestnut St., was established to get more students involved in the Chinese-speaking community.

Eight residents currently live in the house. Most of them are students of the Chinese Language Flagship program while others are studying Mandarin language through the department of modern languages. A native Chinese speaker also resides in the house.

“They speak Chinese for everything,” Jennifer Markin, assistant director of the Chinese Flagship Program, said. Markin facilitates the social and cultural aspects of the house. 

Residents of the house were required to sign a language pledge upon their arrival at their new home. Resident Alex Hezik, a senior from Campbellsville, said that for six out of the week’s seven days, they speak Chinese in the home.

“We speak English on Sundays to incorporate [the native Chinese resident],” Hezik said. “So it’s not just [a house for] our benefit, it’s to her benefit too because she’s able to practice English.” 

The students in the house have varying levels of Mandarin Chinese language proficiency. According to Hezik, residents must be patient when communicating with each other.  

“We do have people of lower levels of Chinese who come by the house as visitors,” Hezik said. “If, say for instance, you bring a visitor [to the house] who cannot speak Chinese at all, it’s okay to speak English with that person.”

According to Markin, the house also serves as a cultural hub for the Chinese-speaking community. The residents practice aspects of the Chinese culture on a daily basis.

Upon entry of the residence, students take off their shoes and slide into a pair of slippers — a custom in many Chinese homes.

“It’s just 习惯 [habit],” Hezik said, chuckling at her own mix of English and Chinese.

In the kitchen, large bags of rice sit on the countertop next to the fridge. Bright orange sticky notes with Chinese vocabulary words written on them label different objects and utensils all around the room. 

Hezik said the sticky notes around the house help her remember certain household vocabulary words. 

“I’ve only been in the flagship for two years,” Hezik said, cracking a smile. “Speaking Chinese in the house isn’t a chore to me; I enjoy it.”

Hezik is a third-year, 400-level Chinese Language Flagship student. This is her third and final year in the program, and she will soon begin applying for a Flagship Capstone Year in China for the 2016-2017 academic year. 

“I feel pretty 马马虎虎 [alright],” Hezik said, referring to her Capstone application.

The Chinese Language Immersion House also hosts Chinese culture and language programming. Although these events are tailored for the Chinese-speaking community at WKU, they are open for anyone interested in learning more about China.

“Chinese Culture Club is going to start having activities here in the house,” Hezik states.

A few of the events the Chinese Language Immersion House will host include an autumn festival and a recurring language table. The Chinese Culture Club’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival will take place on Sept. 28 at 5:30 p.m., and the Chinese Language Table is scheduled for Monday evenings at 5:30 p.m. Students of the Chinese Flagship program, the department of modern languages and international native Chinese speakers are encouraged to attend these programs.  

“It is a place you can come to for social events. Come to relax,” Markin said.

The opening reception for the house will be Sept. 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All who are interested in the house and the events hosted there are invited to attend.

“[The house allows] for more communication between the Chinese students as well as those of us who are studying Chinese,” Hezik said.