“Studying a language at URI is more than just a major. It is all about proficiency and being able to use the language.”
During his internship for Teknor Apex, in Suzhou, China, Samuel Browne looked forward to lunchtime when he could socialize with his Chinese colleagues. In Chinese, it is common to wish someone a good lunch by saying ‘eat slowly’. “I happen to eat very slowly anyway,” says Sam, “so my friends would joke, ‘Eat slowly–but not too slowly because you have to go back to work sometime.’”
For some students, just the idea of eating lunch in another country can be daunting, let alone going to work and learning the ins and outs of your profession. But for Sam, this was the highlight of the Chinese Language Flagship Program. He encourages students to embrace the idea. “The faculty really help students prepare, and the people you meet in China are welcoming and gracious to non native-speakers,” he says.
Sam always knew he wanted to study math or science in college, but he also had a strong interest in languages, so the Chinese Language Flagship Program seemed like the best of both worlds. He enrolled in the International Engineering Program (IEP) with a focus in Chemical Engineering.
“Studying a language at URI is more than just a major. It is all about proficiency and being able to use the language,” Sam says. “Once you get used to speaking Chinese every day, you connect the language to your daily academic life.”
He believes the strategy of speaking only Chinese accounts for the program’s success and the more he progressed and learned the technical vocabulary specific to his field, the more opportunities he found to combine two seemingly different disciplines. “Mandarin has an inherent logic and structure that lends itself to engineering in interesting ways. For example, the word ‘computer’, combines the characters for ‘electric’ and ‘brain’.”
Sam went from no knowledge of Chinese to a superior level of proficiency in writing, reading, and speaking. “Many of our students reach a superior level of proficiency in one or two of those areas,” says Wayne He, director of the Chinese Language Flagship Program, “but it is a rare accomplishment to reach superior proficiency in all three modes of language.” Sam also received the prestigious Boren scholarship to study abroad and was awarded the 2018 President’s Student Excellence Award.
Sam doesn’t see his achievements as a solely academic pursuit. For him, religion and intercultural dialogue are closely bound and the ability to interact with kindness towards people who speak another language is a meaningful way to practice his faith. He now works as a process engineer in the Rhode Island location of Teknor Apex where he served on his internship. The international company allows him plenty of opportunities to use his Chinese–especially during long, slow lunches. “Many people who work in multinational companies speak English, so basic communication isn’t a challenge,” Sam says. “But communicating with people in their own native language means that you can communicate with them on a deeper level.”