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Benefits of Double Majoring in Chinese Studies

Heads are buried in a rigorous Chinese studies’ translating assignment, but this is not merely translating from Chinese to English. The students’ rendering of a text includes an understanding of the culture and a thorough literary analysis. Wellspring Associate Professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature Helen Zhang teaches the art of transreading.

A transreader combines four roles — reader, translator, writer and scholar. Chinese studies and physics senior Kyle Wipfli explained, “It’s a step-by-step process to accurately translate something. I’ve learned to become not just a Chinese speaker but also a Chinese translator of language and culture.”

One-fifth of the world’s population speaks Chinese, and it makes sense that students pair their science, business or engineering major with Chinese studies as a second major. But if they are only expecting to be able to rattle off a few lines of conversational Chinese, they are in for a surprise.

Three graduating seniors discuss how double majoring in Chinese studies translated into much more than learning a new language.

Kyle Wipfli – physics & Chinese studies senior

Wipfli investigates beyond the mathematical signs or Chinese lettering for a deeper understanding of both physics and his Chinese studies. “I’ve always been more into the philosophical side of physics,” Wipfli said. “I see physics as a language not necessarily as just a science because I know it can be more than that. I know Chinese can be more than just a language too.”

When Wipfli considers Einstein’s y=mc2, his first word is elegant; and he asked, “What does it really mean to have an equation?” As a fan of questions and discussions, Wipfli flourished in his higher level Chinese courses that focused on culture. Each student is paired with a Chinese international student, and they converse about the issues of the day — everything from internet censorship to animal testing. “The professor isn’t going to let you stop at ‘Oh, I think this.’ It needs to be ‘I think this because this, this and this.’”

While studying in Beijing this past summer, Wipfli did not know a soul in his group. He allowed himself to open up to new experiences and friends. “I found myself connecting with the culture because I dived into China,” he said.


Sam Pangestu – engineering senior with Chinese Studies

Sam Pangestu wanted a closer relationship with his grandparents. However, because he could not speak Chinese, the language barrier was a major obstacle. During his first two years of Chinese, he was able to text them, but when they vacationed together in Taiwan, he put his language skills to the test. “At the beginning, I couldn’t understand anything, but after about a week, I started understanding. Now, I can communicate with them pretty well,” Pangestu said.

Pangestu excels in the practical. As an engineer, he compares numbers and data sets, but when faced with Zhang’s transreading, he tackled a new challenge. “It’s like literary analysis where you are trying to understand the meaning of this poem, and it’s really vague,” he said. “All you have to work with are the specific word choices, cultural context and historical context of the author. It’s translating the culture.”

He also emphasizes the need for evidence. If a student comes to a translation conclusion, they better be able to back up their assertion with proof. “Chinese is a much harder challenge than the mathematical analysis of electrical engineering,” Pangestu said


Rob Rodriguez – biology and Chinese studies senior

When Rob Rodriguez came to TU, he’d already completed four years of Chinese and had experienced a study abroad trip to China in high school. Still, he wanted to know more about the Chinese culture. Last year, he completed an intensive language program at Nanjing University. “It gave me an opportunity to strengthen my language skills in reading and writing, and I got to dive in and learn the idiomatic and common phrases of Chinese youth,” Rodriguez said. “I got to do so much traveling and see different cultural things that arise in different locations from Beijing to Shanghai to Tibet.”

Rodriguez avoided the typical tourist spots and enjoyed a genuine Chinese experience with his roommate. “He took me off the beaten path a little bit and wanted me to do more authentic things when it came to cooking traditional foods, calligraphy and martial arts,” he said.

After experiencing transreading, Rodriguez was amazed by the complexity of the Chinese language. Although he is going to study cellular and molecular biology to understand the molecular mechanism of how diseases are created, his background in Chinese will still prove helpful. “The Chinese language has given me a greater capacity to look at the fine details, and that’s going to be important when I move forward into my career,” Rodriguez said. “If I can pay attention to those details, that can be the difference between being highly successful or not.”