Centre students set for unforgettable experience about forgetting
John Dickens ’12 may have learned to speak Chinese in classes at Centre, but he became even more proficient by haggling for lunch on the streets of Shanghai during a semester abroad.
Dickens and Stewart Lowery ’12 are among a growing wave of American undergraduates choosing to study abroad in China. This summer, thanks to a fund that supports international student travel for increasing global knowledge, the two Centre students are accompanying Centre professor Kyle Anderson to Xian, China, to film a documentary on a Chinese calligraphy master.
In the documentary, the students and professor will explore “dysgraphia,” or forgetting how to write in one’s language. Texting and typing on laptops is endangering an important part of Chinese culture — people are forgetting the characters they learned as children. This form of amnesia is especially alarming to calligraphers, many of whom believe that, in Chinese culture, writing is an art form and a spiritual exercise.
The Centre team, which left August 2, is spending three weeks in Xian interviewing the master and others about calligraphy and dysgraphia. They plan to show the film at conferences and film festivals.
Dickens will use his classroom and street language skills to interview Xian residents about their character amnesia.
“I never thought I’d study in China, let alone go back for a research project like this,” he says. “I’m fortunate to be here at a time when students are able to make their own path academically. I definitely want to work abroad when I graduate.”
Anderson, an Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow, became involved in the project after meeting a calligraphy master on a recent trip to China. He came to Centre in 2010 in part because he knew he could obtain funding to conduct research abroad, and that he could enlist undergraduates to assist him. Producing a documentary film about a calligraphy master seemed like a natural idea, given that Chinese is the oldest continuous writing system in the world.
“This is an amazing opportunity for me, and I’m sure it is also going to be an exciting experience for my students,” says Anderson. “It’s the sort of experience usually reserved for graduate students.”
Dickens and Lowery are two of many beneficiaries of Centre’s commitment to global education. Eighty-five percent of Centre students study abroad at least once in cities across the globe — now including Shanghai — and that percentage ranks second among liberal arts colleges. Centre runs its own programs, which makes study abroad accessible to all students, regardless of family income, and the College provides free passports and guarantees a study abroad experience to every interested student.