Courtesy of Kyle Smith

Chinese Language and Culture: Kyle Smith

There are Wake Forest students who are passionate about their studies, and then there are students who make sacrifices for their studies. Chinese language and culture major Kyle Smith falls into the latter group.

Chinese language and culture majors are required to study abroad in either Taiwan or China. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith had to go this spring. 

“I didn’t even think I was going to get to Taiwan,” Smith said. “This is my last semester of my senior year, and I’m studying abroad. I won’t graduate at the same time as everyone. I’ll have to apply for graduation over the summer. I won’t get to walk with people in my class.”

Taiwan isn’t the first Chinese-speaking country Smith has lived in. His last immersive experience dates back to when he was just a kid, and it spurred his interest in the major. 

“I had some experience studying Chinese [before Wake Forest] because I actually lived as an expatriate in Singapore for four years,” Smith said. “In school there, I ended up taking Chinese. I’ve also always been very interested in the tensions between the United States and China, so I feel it’s important to understand a language and culture to truly understand both sides of the equation.”

During his time studying Chinese language and culture at Wake Forest, Smith has accumulated much respect for the faculty here. 

“The number of majors in my class is in the single digits,” Smith explained. “[This] has played into the ability of the number of classes that the department is able to offer. It’s showed me how dedicated the department is since the faculty was like, ‘Great, we’re going to make this work, and we’re going to develop a whole curriculum for the students we have.’”

The material Smith has learned through the department goes well beyond language courses. He appreciates other facets of the culture that have impacted him throughout his studies. 

“One major thing I learned was that logic is not universal,” Smith said. “I had a [professor] constantly saying to me: ‘Your logic is English logic. You need to use Chinese logic.’ 

Smith continued: “With the language being so much older than English, I would say intuition is something I have learned to appreciate more. When you’ve had some 6,000 years to develop a language, it becomes much deeper, with so many more meanings.”

These aspects of his studies led to Smith’s choices in minors, psychology and political science. 

His interest in politics was a driving factor in his favorite course that Smith has taken at Wake Forest, his thesis class. 

“I very much enjoyed the thesis course, in which I wrote a paper about relations between the People’s Liberation Army [in China] and the citizens,” Smith said.

Despite his appreciation of the department, Smith spoke on some of the opportunities he wishes he would have been more involved in.

“They have a Chinese Culture Club on campus that I didn’t engage in very much, and I probably should have,” Smith said. “I would recommend people who are interested in Chinese to get involved with the club because they do a lot to engage with Chinese students, like celebrating holidays. It definitely involved very easy access, and the faculty involved are all very friendly.”

Kyle’s dedication to the major and understanding of the value of his abroad experience is bringing him back shortly after graduation. 

“Now that I’m here in Taiwan and experiencing the culture and the intensity of their programs, I want to come back [to Taiwan] or go to China for university and a master’s degree,” Kyle said. “I need to pass a [HSK (Level V)] exam, which tests your Chinese proficiency and whether you can take classes taught in another language.”

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