In 2008, China stood as the second-largest economy in
the world after the United States,
witnessing steady growth over the past decade. A nation
that once suffered a brain drain now
experiences the exact opposite, even amid a global economic
With China increasingly becoming a world power and its
influence spreading across East Asia, a
little bit of — or better yet, a lot of —
Chinese language training would significantly enhance a
person's workplace marketability, or so says Kellee Tsai,
a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins and
director of its
East Asian Studies program.
Tsai recently secured funding from the Office of the
Provost to conduct a one-year feasibility
study for the establishment of an intensive Chinese
language program at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center
in China. The unique program would feature a research
component and specialized technical tracks
such as medical Chinese, business Chinese, Chinese for
engineers or public health workers and Chinese
for social science research.
The program was one of the 11 inaugural grant winners
out of 74 proposals submitted to the
Framework for the Future's Discovery Working Group. Each
selected initiative received start-up
funding of up to $200,000 per year for up to three years.
The university hopes these Discovery
grants will ignite new areas and strengthen existing ones
where crossdisciplinary interactions make a
The Discovery Working Group is one part of Framework
for the Future, a strategic planning
process that Provost Kristina Johnson and President William
R. Brody initiated in May 2008. The other
parts are Ways and Means, and People.
In addition to the Chinese language program, one-year
grants went to the Johns Hopkins All-University Africana
Studies Initiative, the Initiative in Computational
Learning, Addressing the "Gathering Storm" in STEM
Education and the Neuro-Education Initiative: Supporting
Research in the Brain Sciences to Transform Teaching and
According to Tsai, interest in East Asian studies has
skyrocketed. All the courses at Johns
Hopkins fill up quickly, she said, and long waiting lists
are commonplace. Due to high demand, the East
Asian Studies program introduced seven new courses and an
honors track this past year.
The program has also laid the groundwork for an East
Asian studies concentration or minor
tailored for engineering and natural science students.
"This is where the use of the Discovery Grant comes
in," Tsai said. "What I will be doing is
tailoring a program specifically for that niche of students
who are majoring in engineering, public
health or pre-med, you name it, but also are really
interested in working in East Asia. Many of our
students are originally from that region."
Tsai said the time to implement such a program is
"If we can get this off the ground really soon, Johns
Hopkins would be at the absolute
forefront of an imminent wave of students with science-East
Asian double concentrations," she said.
"It is just a natural, logical extension of the growing
interest in the region."
The program would incorporate the Middlebury-style
immersion pedagogy, which features the
pledge to speak only the language of study for a set
duration. Tsai said that the proposed technical
language program would need to be "distinctly Hopkins" in
its emphasis on specialized language training,
with opportunities for students to pursue their research
interests in collaboration with Chinese
counterparts. It would also be an alternative to the
conventional immersion programs in China.
"We see no need to offer yet another intensive Chinese
language program for our students.
There are already so many out there," she said. "Princeton
has one. Duke, too. The list goes on."
Hosting the program at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center,
Tsai said, would capitalize on the center's
reputation within China for crosscultural training and
networking, and Johns Hopkins' strengths in
medicine, engineering and science.
Hopkins-Nanjing Center is operated jointly by the
university's School of Advanced
International Studies and Nanjing University. The center
today is considered the most prestigious and
largest facility in the world devoted exclusively to
education for future leaders of the Sino-American
relationship. This past year, 67 students enrolled in the
center's academic programs.
Tsai said she believes there is growing demand among
natural science undergraduates and
graduate students, at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, who
would appreciate the opportunity to study
Chinese in a manner that complements their research and
Students enrolled in the program might, for example,
visit labs in China where scientists are
working on topics in their specific field of study.
While it would initially be targeted to
undergraduates, the program could also enroll graduate
students, visiting scholars, postdocs and faculty.
"This could be the beginning of something that
facilitates research and professional
collaboration with Chinese counterparts," she said.
The feasibility study will seek to determine the
optimum level of Chinese required for the
program, class size and structure, course materials,
research-oriented activities, cost structure,
staffing, scheduling and the overall objectives.
Tsai said the initial impression is that such
specialized language training would require at least
two years of college-level Chinese. The program would
likely be six to eight weeks in duration and be
offered during the summer.
"But I'm open to what the study shows us," Tsai said.
"Intersession would be another possibility
for when the program is offered."
In addition to classroom instruction, students might
take part in field trips, laboratory visits,
research seminars, workshops and other activities that
provide an opportunity to interact with native
speakers working within the same area of specialization.
What would be the outcomes of such a program? Tsai
said that students would have the ability
to translate a social science survey questionnaire, read an
article in a Chinese medical journal or
conduct field interviews in Chinese.
"Ultimately, upon graduation, the student would be
better qualified," she said. "When an East
Asian firm is looking at two applicants, someone who has
Chinese/engineering or Chinese/public health
training would have a competitive advantage over someone
with a general Chinese language
Tsai said that she hopes to have a report on the
program completed by September. The East
Asian Studies program plans to apply for external funding
to help fund start-up costs.