Emily Hadfield

A portrait of Emily Hadfield, dual major in business and the Chinese Flagship Program

“It’s not hard. It’s different.”

During a trip to Maine’s Acadia National Park, Emily Hadfield and her family were hiking through the rugged terrain when she heard a nearby family shouting encouragement to one other in Chinese. Much to their surprise, Emily joined in saying, “You’ve got this!” in Mandarin, and they were able to converse when they reached the summit.

For Emily, learning Mandarin Chinese is an effective way to break down barriers. “They were so surprised to hear an American who spoke their language, and it instantly made them feel comfortable,” she says.

The first thing that most people say when Emily tells them she is studying Chinese is that it must be hard. “It’s not hard,” she usually responds. “It’s different.” It is an approach that has guided her through an ambitious dual-degree study in Chinese and global business management.

Dark rooftops in the Forbidden City contrasted against the sky
Forbidden City at Dusk, Photograph by Emily Hadfield

Growing up, Emily often traveled abroad with her family, so she already had a strong interest in other cultures and languages. “I took my first Chinese class in high school, and fell in love with the language,” she says. She chose URI specifically for the Chinese Flagship Program, a five-year dual-degree program designed to help students achieve superior language proficiency. The program is supported by The Language Flagship, an initiative of the National Security Education Program. Emily immersed herself in the language right away, practicing daily with two roommates from China.

She also took to the rigorous and detailed language instruction in class. “If you want to build something well, you have to start with a solid foundation,” she says. The student to teacher ratio is really high, so if you make a mistake, the professors can correct it right away.”

Emily chose to go to China on the winter J Term trip, to make sure she really connected with the language and culture before committing to the program. “The people were amazing,” she said. “And it was fascinating to learn about different regions and how accents, cuisine, and traditions vary.”

A pond covered with water lilies with a stone
Summer Palace, Photograph by Emily Hadfield

She also participated in URI’s eight-week Chinese Flagship Immersion Program, the summer of her freshman year. “During the school year, we probably devote 20% of our classroom time learning about Chinese culture, but the summer intensive program incorporated many cultural activities like pouring tea, tai chi, and making paper kites.”

The following summer she honed her language skills during an eight-week immersion program at the prestigious Beijing Normal University. Program participants pledge to speak only Mandarin Chinese for the duration.

URI scholars are becoming increasingly prominent in national scholarship competitions that support international study. Because Mandarin Chinese has been designated by the U.S. as a ‘critical’ language, meaning there is a high demand for language professionals, students studying those languages may qualify for additional funding. Last fall, Emily travelled to China a third time for her overseas capstone year, which was funded partially by a Demers Scholarship. “Having that support frees me up to concentrate more on mastering the language without having that financial concern,” she says.

“Learning a second language is such a privilege. Not everyone in the world has access to that kind of education.”

For Emily, the experience has taught her how to see the world from other cultural reference points and to appreciate how fortunate she has been to have had these opportunities. “Learning a second language is such a privilege,” she says. “Not everyone in the world has access to that kind of education.”

The Great Wall

Photograph by Emily Hadfield