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ASU students learn the ropes in China

January 12, 2010

Miles Campos started studying Chinese at ASU and hasn’t turned back since – delving into the language, the culture and the literature.

“I had never intended to take my Chinese studies as far as I have,” said Campos, currently attending university in Nanjing, China. The Utah native is among the Chinese Language Flagship program’s first cohort of students at Arizona State University. The rigorous program is training ASU undergraduates to achieve a superior level of proficiency in Chinese, which is considered one of the most difficult languages for Americans to learn, according to the Foreign Service Institute at the U.S. State Department.

“If you want to study Chinese period, you can do a major and minor," Campos said. "But if you don’t want it to stop there and want to go beyond just studying mere language, Flagship is something you want to do."

ASU’s Chinese Language Flagship program is part of the Language Flagship program, a federal effort through the National Security Education Program (NSEP) at the Department of Defense. The goal of Flagship is to produce global professionals who can function in a critical language at a professional level. Critical languages include Arabic, Korean, Farsi, Hindi, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.

Under the program, a total of six students are spending a year in China studying at the prestigious Nanjing University before completing internships in their career domains in the spring. Students are directly enrolled at Nanjing University, which means that they take regular undergraduate and graduate classes with Chinese students. This is similar to Chinese international students who have to deal with the challenges of taking classes at American universities – something that American students in China generally don’t experience.

“It becomes more of an anomaly to have an American student do that,” said Madeline Spring, director of ASU Flagship and ASU Chinese professor.

Andre Bunnitt, who is studying political science and Chinese, plans to study patent and international sales law in the future. He was directly enrolled in a maritime law class at Nanjing University.

“The experience and the ability to discuss maritime law in Chinese with a professor in China is completely invaluable, you wouldn’t be able to get that anywhere else,”  said Bunnitt.

Before leaving for China, the students spend an intensive year at ASU taking Chinese content courses. The students have taken courses such as “The History of Chinese Medicine” and “Chinese for Professional Purposes” that are taught in Chinese. Most of the students are double majors in Chinese and another field. Majors range from history to sustainability to finance.


Campos, who just applied to the Chinese literature doctoral program at ASU, is studying intercultural communication and Chinese. A handful of excellent Chinese and American professors have inspired him to pursue this path, he said.

Students in ASU’s Chinese Flagship program come from a variety of backgrounds, including those of Chinese descent who want to become proficient in their heritage language.

Doreen Zhao, who grew up with Mandarin-speaking parents and attended a local Chinese school, knew that she needed more training to use her Chinese professionally.  

“I wanted to improve my Chinese to where I could use it confidently in the workplace, “ she said. “This meant learning how to do presentations, coming up with proposals, writing papers, learning jargon – all of which Flagship provided.”

Zhao is directly enrolled in architecture classes at Nanjing University and plans to intern at a local Chinese architecture firm. She hopes to work as an architect in China eventually.  

“I haven’t started the internship yet, but I now have a better idea of the architecture workplace in China and what life for a foreign architect might be like,” Zhao said.

Zhao, who was born in Tucson and raised in the Valley, put off attending architecture school so she could study Chinese through Flagship. She said it was a tough decision because she also had been accepted into the competitive, upper-division architecture program at ASU.

“In the end, I realized I would never get a chance to study abroad with the same intensity and focus on professionalism that Flagship offered,” Zhao said. “I figured taking an extra year to graduate was a fair trade for a year of new experiences in school, work and daily life.”

Flagship applications are due Jan. 31. Pre-Flagship applications are due Feb. 28. For more information, please contact ASU Chinese Language Flagship’s program coordinator Mia Segura at (480) 965-9221 or

Irene Hsiao
Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program