A first-time visitor to Oxford, Mississippi is easily struck by the quaint charm of this town located just a one hour drive from Memphis. The central square is walled on all sides by quintessentially Southern-style, double-story, open-porch architecture that houses a wide range of eateries, gift shops, and retailers. Home to just 19,000 residents, Oxford is small, and easily prompts nostalgia for a quiet, timeless, slow-paced lifestyle – one that is further echoed by the gently rolling hills of the surrounding countryside.
Yet Oxford’s large distinctions are many. It is included in the book The 100 Best Small Towns in America. The Nobel Laureate author, William Faulkner, lived and wrote in Oxford, and his home is now a major tourist attraction. Bestselling novelist, John Grisham, also has a home in Oxford and frequently visits the town. So does NY Giants Quarterback, Eli Manning, who can be sighted in Oxford during the offseason when he visits his father’s home there. And, Square Books – a trio of bookstores located on Oxford’s main square, received national recognition by Publisher’s Weekly this year when it was named the country’s “Bookstore of the Year.”
Oxford is also famous as the home to the University of Mississippi, more commonly, and affectionately, referred to as “Ole Miss.”
The school, founded in 1848, boasts a variety of distinctions and accolades, with many of its programs ranked on a wide range of national ‘top’ lists. In 2003, Ole Miss added another “feather to its cap” when it received a federal grant to launch a comprehensive Chinese-language “Flagship Program.” It was in this capacity that Ole Miss played host last week to the annual directors meeting of the national organization, The Language Flagship.
Established by the federal government in 2002, The Language Flagship is, today, a national network of 26 intensive programs located at 22 academic institutions and 10 overseas centers that is designed to provide American students advanced training in foreign language utilizing new models of intensive language learning. The programs seek to foster education in 10 “strategic” languages – languages that are of critical importance to today’s world affairs, both in the public and commercial spheres. For several of the languages offered, programs are available across a range of colleges and universities throughout the United States to offer geographic flexibility for an individual student’s program selection. Languages offered, and corresponding “Flagship programs” include:
A typical undergraduate Flagship Program commences the freshman year of study, and continues for four to five years, including a “Capstone Year” that includes a semester of study at one of The Language Flagship’s overseas centers in target countries where the various languages are spoken, followed by a 4-6 month in-country work placement. Flagship Programs stand out from education offered in the target languages at non-Flagship schools not only due to the rigor of the Flagship teaching methodology, but also because of one unique feature of all Flagship programs: while students major in their chosen language, they also pursue a double concentration, or major, in a subject of their choice (liberal arts, science, engineering, etc.). The second major is then incorporated into the student’s language education by having the student take courses in their second major in their target language (e.g. studying world history in Chinese, studying math in Arabic, studying biology in Russian, etc.). As such, upon graduation, a student not only emerges with a superior level of general language competency, but is also already qualified to use the language – including special vocabulary, terminology, etc. – within a specific subject and/or professional arena.
Said Dr. Michael Nugent, Director of the National Security Education Program and the top administrator overseeing national operations and development for The Language Flagship, “The unique nature of the language education that Flagship has implemented across the country corresponds to the unique competencies and profiles of the graduates who emerge from these programs. Because our programs are advanced, our students already enjoy advanced abilities to communicate professionally on the global stage, even at the very beginning of their careers.”
One such student is Rossitza (“Rossi”) Petrova, a rising-senior in the City University of New York (CUNY) Hunter College Chinese Language Flagship Program. A native of Bulgaria who immigrated to the US with her family as a child and then settled in Manhattan, Rossi was a sophomore when Hunter first launched its Chinese Flagship program in 2011, and she immediately enrolled. Said Rossi, “I chose the program due to its structure, its individualized, intense language instruction, and the built-in chance to study abroad. The program provides me with a pathway to my specific goal: achieving a superior level of Chinese language proficiency.” Rossi’s second concentration at Hunter is political science, and she will be departing this summer on a Boren Scholarship to study for her Flagship “Capstone Year” at Tianjin Normal University in Tianjin, China – the port city east of Beijing. With fluent English, Bulgarian, and now Chinese, Rossi is considering future career opportunities in both business and government service.
According to Professor Der-Lin Chao who leads Chinese language education at Hunter, including the school’s Flagship program, prospective student interest in the program has been growing strongly since the school received its Flagship designation. “Chinese is already a top language-of-choice for a wide variety of students intending to pursue diverse careers in the global community,” said Professor Chao. “Our program at Hunter is unique not only for our Flagship structure and methodology, but also because we are located in New York – the city with the largest resident Chinese population in the United States, and a top destination for travelers from China. So, even outside the classroom, Hunter Flagship students have many day-to-day opportunities throughout the city to use and improve their Chinese skills.”
At the national level, The Language Flagship has grown dramatically in recent years, with total annual undergraduate program enrollment increasing from 41 students in 2006, to 888 in the 2012-2013 academic year. As a strategic initiative funded by the US government, a variety of educational grants, scholarships, and other funding opportunities are available for students who enroll in the programs. There are also focused Flagship programs especially designed for students enrolled in ROTC.
In addition to college level programs, The Language Flagship also offers a range of K-12 Chinese and Arabic language learning programs across the country.