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Life Changer

Lor “Sana” Vang ’14 received a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) to pursue advanced language study in China this past summer. She studied at Zhejiang University of Technology in Hang Zhou, China for ten weeks.

She is one of approximately 550 U.S. undergraduate and graduate students who received the scholarship this year. The CLS Program is part of a U.S. Department of State’s effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages, specifically Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Turkish, or Urdu. CLS Program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers.

Before Sana departed for China, we asked her to participate in a Q&A on her K career and her upcoming CLS summer.

Your hometown? I am from St. Paul, Minnesota. I was born in Thailand and raised in the U.S. I am Hmong-American.

Major, Minor? I majored in East Asian studies with minors in Japanese and economics.

Where did you study abroad? I studied in China during my junior year 2012-13, spending six months in Beijing and three months in Harbin.

Did you complete an Integrative Cultural Project (ICRP) during study abroad? Yes. My ICRP focused on traditional music and I learned how to play a Pipa, a four-string plucked lute. I took Pipa lessons with a graduate student at the Conservatory of Music in Beijing. I attended a music workshop and concerts, and also interviewed music students to learn why they decided to learn traditional versus western instruments.

How did your K study abroad experience affect your life? My K study abroad experience affected my life in many ways. China was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to see things in a different perspective. I studied the history of Beijing, improved my Chinese, and learned about music. In Harbin, I saw the influences of Western cultures and studied about Chinese myths and fairy tales. I also took a course in business that led me to understand more about China’s economic developments and how people are affected by the policies that are being implemented. I traveled and saw many historic sites, and got engaged in the community. I have many good friends from study abroad who will be with me throughout my life.

Describe your Senior Individualized Project? My SIP focused on the clashes of American culture and Hmong culture. Hmong are a diaspora group of people, and Hmong-Americans especially find it’s hard to keep the balance between being both Hmong and American. My SIP talked about finding a new identity of bi-culturalism, some of the struggles within our modern society, and understanding how history has become a big part of who Hmong are today.

Have you been involved in K student organizations? I served as the president of the Badminton Club in my sophomore year and was vice-president my senior year. I also was a member of the Asian Pacific-Islander Student Association.

Campus jobs? I worked for political science department and at the New Media Center.

What do you expect to experience and learn during your CLS summer in China? I want to learn more about the food culture and how to make authentic Chinese food. I also am interested in seeing the differences between living in the south of China and the north. I also expect to improve my Chinese language and learn more about the dialects.

What strengths and learning experiences from your nearly four years at K will help you during your CLS summer? I think my study abroad experience during my junior year will definitely help me during the CLS Summer. Studying abroad helped me become more independent, as well as understand more about myself, and the adaptation process that we all experience while moving to a different place. I learned that exploring cities and having conversations with others can also be beneficial in that you can get to know a place, the people, and become part of that ecosystem.

What are some of your longer-term academic and career goals beyond this summer? Beyond this summer I hope to either find a job or continue my studies in graduate school studying international relations and business. Critical Language Scholars are encouraged to study our targeted language and incorporate it into our future career. I hope to become fluent in Chinese and work in U.S.-China related jobs. Some activities that I might be engaged in are international relations related jobs and programs.

What would you like people to know about you and your K experience as you head toward Commencement and into the ranks of K alumni? Kalamazoo College’s slogan—More in Four. More in a Lifetime.—is, I believe, my Kalamazoo experience. I have met many inspiring people, become great friends with other K students, and have had an amazing four years that I will not forget. K is indeed life changing.