UW Bothell News

Study Abroad Expands Your World

Study Abroad Expands Your World

Published: November 21, 2014

In early November, Justin Nygard, the new ASUWB Director of Government Relations, visited Chinese 101 and inspired his fellow students with his vivid and moving account of life-changing experiences and his “sentimental education” in China. In the autumn quarter of 2010, Justin enrolled in Chinese 101 with no idea what he had stepped into: he just embarked on an odyssey to study one of the most difficult languages in the world. During his first class, one sophisticated character caught his fancy. This character (one of the most intricate in Chinese) refers to Biáng Biáng Miàn, a famous noodle dish in China. The question on the slide was: Can you handle this?

Three years flew by, and Justin met the challenge of tasting the noodle in its most authentic place. In 2013, he was accepted by China’s prestigious Nanjing University where he would study and immerse himself in the culture for a year.

Chinese is a tonal language. In addition to word order and context, a slight tone change could change the entire meaning. A much bigger challenge is recognizing characters. Justin’s exacting Chinese teacher in Nanjing did not make it any easier. He says the most excruciating was daily 听写【tīngxiě “dictation” or “listen and write”, all in characters, on the spot. It is even more difficult to write Chinese characters if you are left-handed. Justin survived all this. Moreover, he thrived in Nanjing, quickly becoming a local and national celebrity. Justin put his Chinese speaking skills to use during national television and newspaper interviews. In Nanjing and elsewhere, Justin popularized Zumba, a dance fitness program.

In his presentation, Justin encouraged his fellow students to study abroad saying the experience changed his life by expanding his world and opportunities. What is more important, opening to a different language and culture has broadened his intellectual horizon. At one point, Justin said he was eager to visit the Great Wall, his teacher in China snapped sharply: How many people died during the construction? In an instant, his perspective was changed. While other tourists were posing to have a perfect picture taken, Justin was deep in thought.

On second language acquisition, there is an influential theory called the “critical period hypothesis” which claims that once one has passed puberty, a critical window for optimum language acquisition, the rest is an up-hill climb. Justin’s success indicates that one can overcome obstacles with perseverance and persistence, and his return to UW Bothell, with such success in China, is something to celebrate.

Justin will return to China next year to work at Nanjing University.

Courtesy photo from Justin Nygard: 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Zumba Flashmobs