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Heading For China

Northwestern undergrad to compete in Chinese language and culture contest

May 23, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold
Madeleine Low and Corey Nelson

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Shortly after he completes his freshman year, Northwestern University undergraduate Corey Nelson will head to Changsha (hometown of Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic of China) to compete with finalists from around the world in a Chinese language proficiency and culture competition called the Chinese Bridge.

Nelson and Northwestern freshman Madeleine Low recently returned with Licheng Gu -- coordinator of the Northwestern’s Chinese language instruction program -- from Purdue University where they won top prizes in the Midwest regionals. Nelson will be the sole contestant representing the Midwest at the final competition.

Raised in Hong Kong, Nelson was awarded first place in the highest division after speaking in Chinese on the merits of Chinese and Western medicine and playing a flute rendition of one of China’s most best-known music works. Low, a School of Communication theatre major from Northbrook, Ill., spoke on the dangers of being misunderstood when speaking a foreign language and also performed a popular Chinese song.

“Seventeen years ago, we had only three Chinese language teachers and 70 students,” says Gu, who teaches in the African and Asian Language Program. “Today Nelson and Low are among 350 students studying Chinese every quarter and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences recently approved an ad hoc Chinese major for two students.” More students hope to declare minors and majors in Chinese, he adds. 

For 10 years, 100 of the world’s best Chinese language students have competed in the Chinese Bridge. Nelson and other finalists will spend 10 days in China, where, according to Gu, they will be treated like rock stars.

Northwestern students recognize the importance of learning Chinese language and culture, and increasingly choose to study in China, says Gu. This summer, he will take more than 40 students to Peking University, where Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is expected to visit them.

Meanwhile, Gu is pinning his hopes on soon-to-be Northwestern sophomore and Chinese Bridge competitor Nelson. “I expect him to bring honor to Northwestern and the USA.” 

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