Senior Emily Carey, a history major with a double minor in Asian studies and philosophy, sees life as a series of learning opportunities. That outlook led her across the globe to simultaneous study and teaching in Nanjing, China, in 2017. She rates it as “the best experience of my life.”

Studying Mandarin in high school, Emily grew to love the character-based language and was immediately attracted to Catholic University’s Chinese program. She traveled to China through the Nanjing branch of the Council on International Educational Exchange, a Catholic University partner organization.

“The program offered a language-focused curriculum, providing total immersion in Chinese language and culture,” she says. Emily read, wrote, and spoke Chinese in an intensive class with eight other students for four hours every morning. In the afternoon, her courses focused on the differences between American and Chinese culture and the history of Chinese political and economic thought. And to round it all out, she learned calligraphy and tai chi.  

The curriculum offered day trips as well as a week-long excursion to destinations steeped in historical and cultural significance. Emily watched archeologists match remains among the thousands of terracotta warriors. She spent a day in the Mogao grottoes viewing Buddhist murals and statues dating back to the early Tang Dynasty. Visiting cities along the Silk Road, she practiced Mandarin with locals and learned about everyday life in China.  

As special as the travel was, Emily’s favorite experience was volunteering each week at an elementary school where she teamed with a classmate to teach English to 30 third graders. The experience became a cultural and language exchange. Using a mix of Mandarin and English, Emily talked about American holidays like Thanksgiving and favorite American pastimes like sports. The children helped her with Mandarin, saying “Miss Emily, you say it like this….” Carey says, “I grew not only as a language learner but also as a person. It was a great work experience without really being work!”

Becoming fluent in Mandarin is a priority for Emily. She was the first Catholic University student to apply and win acceptance to the Harvard-Beijing Academy, a nine-week immersion program at which only Mandarin is spoken. Emily took one of the five third-place slots for her level in the program’s large annual intercollegiate speech competition.

Being able to speak the language fluently provides Carey with a special niche when she’s ready for job opportunities.