UNH Students in a Modern Day Pen Pal Exchange with Chinese University
UNH Students in a Modern Day Pen Pal Exchange with Chinese University

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer/Editor


John McGlynn ’14 was Skyping with his Chinese language partner, practicing Mandarin as she practiced English, when she asked if he would sing “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit single. 

“She’s fascinated by American music, so I obliged,” said McGlynn, a forensic science and biology double major. “We’re pretty good friends already.”

McGlynn is one of seven UNH students studying Mandarin and taking part in a modern version of the pen pal exchange with eight students from Sanjiang University in Nanjing, China. Rather than pick up a pen and write, they Skype for an hour each week, the first half hour in Mandarin, the second in English. They cover specific course topics and also have time just to talk.

A collection of screenshots of UNH students interacting with students from a Chinese university via Skype.

The eight Chinese students plan to study engineering at UNH in 2014. First they must pass English language competencies, which is where the UNH students come in. Practice benefits all, said Hanhua Xia, a professor and vice dean at Sanjiang. “This encourages them to work harder on language skills to be better prepared for their future studies at UNH,” Xia said.  

UNH Mandarin instructor Yeantying Liaw applauded the students for their efforts. “They have learned so much already. I am very proud,” Liaw said.          

Catherine Gentile, a junior criminal justice major from West Babylon, N.Y. said she likes playing a role in her partner’s learning. “He said his English is bad but it’s actually very good,” she said. “I try to build his confidence.”

The UNH students (left) say their Mandarin has improved considerably in the few short weeks they have been talking together. They like having a glimpse into Chinese culture and, particularly, into the life of a fellow college student.

While they note differences – the Sanjiang students’ internet access shuts down promptly at 11 p.m. – what strikes them are their similarities. “They really like to talk about American movies and TV,” said Drew Millum, a first-year criminal justice major from Harwinton, Conn.

Stephanie Rosbach, a sophomore marine biology major from Hallsville, Mo., said, “When I pose a question I am really curious about, my worries about how I am speaking fade away.”

Brielle Vazquez, a sophomore communications major from the Bronx, said the experience has heightened her interest in Asian culture and her desire to visit China.

UNH Associate Provost Ira Kleinfeld, who spearheaded the development of the program with Sanjiang University, called the exchange “a big joy.” It took a year and a half to create the program, he said, and he expects it will be replicated in other UNH Modern Language courses.

“It’s everything you would want experiential learning to be,” he said.


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