UND Chinese Studies director Min (Leslie) Wang looks to expand program


Brian Johnson

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UND Chinese Studies director Min (Leslie) Wang looks to expand program

“Min” is Chinese for smart.

It's a safe bet that Min (Leslie) Wang's parents didn't know she would teach as an adult. They just serendipitously gave her a name that stands out on an academic's resume.

After finishing her Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard in 2013, and spending two years on her post-doc there, Wang was hired by the University of North Dakota to run the Chinese Studies program.

UND already had strong ties to China, which translates in English to "Middle Kingdom.” Chinese students are the most populous international student demographic on campus, according to the International Centre. Also, UND Aerospace trains Air China pilots year-round, there is a Chinese Student and Scholars Association on campus, and in March, UND Music faculty visited the University of Shanghai Science and Technology (USST) in Wang's native Shanghai for a one-week musical and goodwill tour. The visit strengthened longstanding connections that have existed between UND and USST.

For her part, Wang is looking to strengthen the cultural bridge between the U.S. and China even more through the obvious conduit ? language.

“The Chinese programs at universities are expanding,” said Wang. “When I was at Harvard, the classes were getting bigger and getting more popular.”

The reason behind the growing popularity of Chinese isn't mysterious. It's one of the oldest languages with roughly 1 billion native speakers ? more than any other language. Furthermore, according to the international monetary fund, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest economy in 2014.

Wang is trying to mimic China's economic ascension with Mandarin Chinese in UND’s Chinese Studies program.

Her personality and passion for teaching make her a natural for program building. Outgoing, energetic and "min," Wang is quick to chat-up anyone interested in taking Chinese courses. Since arriving on campus, she has developed the Chinese Studies Facebook page, hosted dinners at China Garden restaurant and organized free movie nights throughout the spring semester.

After one semester in Grand Forks, Wang has learned a lot about the local culture, and plans to adjust next year’s events accordingly.

"I'll try to avoid scheduling events on hockey nights," Wang laughs.

While Wang has noticed some community interest in learning Chinese among the youth, she also senses a hesitation to study a language that doesn't use the 26-letter modern English alphabet.

“If you only learn 1,000 Chinese characters, the coverage rate is 92 percent,” said Wang. “If you only learn 160 characters, you conquered 50 percent of all characters. You don’t have to wait for too long."

"Chinese characters are like Legos ? you can snap them together," said Wang.

The grammar is easy and relaxed as well, said Wang. The order of words doesn’t change when you turn a statement into a question like it does for English. In Chinese, you don't have to worry about conjugating words, gender, tense, aspect, inflections, prefixes and postfixes, etc.

"After one year, you can accumulate your Chinese vocabulary quickly and read characters easily,” said Wang.

She is also aware there are students interested in taking her classes that don't have the time or the means.

Recently, Chinese Studies partnered with UND Online & Distance Education to offer two online Chinese language courses for the summer semester. They are the first online Chinese language offerings in North Dakota.

“I just had a student that wanted to come to my class, but couldn’t because of a scheduling conflict throughout the semester," said Wang. "She just signed up for the online course.”

Online Chinese 101 starts in the fall semester of 2015 and Chinese 102 is in the spring semester of 2016.

Wang will continue to build platform for UND's Chinese program, but teaching is constantly on her mind. There are dinner mats in her office that she picked up from a restaurant with Chinese zodiac characters in the design. They'll be interesting visuals for classroom lectures.

For more information on UND's online courses, visit UND.edu/online or contact the UND Office of Extended Learning at 1.800.CALL.UND.

Brian Johnson University & Public Affairs writer

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