Year of study in China shapes new goals for the future


UA students calling China
home for the next year

What promises to be the adventure of a lifetime has just begun for three University of Akron students. They've traded the familiarity of home, family and friends to live and study in the ancient city of Kaifeng, China.

Benjamin Nypaver, Dannysha Luna and Devin Fairchild are recipients of the UA Confucius Institute Henan Scholarship, which provides support for a full year of study in China. The scholarship is made possible through the University's Confucius Institute, in collaboration with Henan University, where they are now studying Chinese language and culture.

Benjamin Nypaver

All three agree that they look forward to making new friends — among the Chinese students they meet as well as the international students with whom they share classes and a dormitory.

In class from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, reading, writing and speaking Chinese, along with studying Chinese literature, they have their afternoons free for study. During the second semester, which begins in February after a six-week break, they can sit in on other classes, if they like.

"We're going at a great time," says Nypaver, a senior honors student majoring in economics and minoring in Chinese language. "It's Henan University's 100th anniversary, so there will be lots of festivals and opportunities to learn even more about the culture.

Dannysha Luna

"I'm really excited about the opportunities we'll have to travel to other parts of China. I may even visit Japan on my way home," adds Nypaver, who studied Japanese as a student at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

Fairchild, a sophomore who is majoring in English, says he has long been fascinated with Chinese culture and has been studying the language for the past year.

"I want to immerse myself in the culture and having a full Chinese experience," says the Phoenix native, who transferred to UA from Northern Arizona University. "I plan on teaching Chinese after graduation, and my time in China will help me to better understand the language and the culture."

Devin Fairchild

Luna came to UA with a global perspective, and expects her experiences in China will further expand her view of the world. A native of Puerto Rico, she spoke only Spanish until she started kindergarten in the U.S. and was introduced to English. Since then, she has studied Korean and Chinese.

"I like languages," says Luna, who at 18 is already a junior at UA. She attended the Akron Early College High School on campus for four years and was a member of its second graduating class in May. Along with her high school diploma, she has an Associate of Arts degree.

"This experience — learning more of the Chinese language, living in a new culture and making new connections — will impact the rest of my life," says Luna, an education major who hopes to teach math and English as a Second Language.

Nypaver agrees.

"I've lived on my own for a couple of years now, but I expect to grow to be much more independent through this experience. During this time in China, I hope to make connections that could lead to an internship or perhaps a job after graduation."

To see how the year unfolds, follow Nypaver at and Fairchild at

Leanna Brown and Shannon Anicas will tell you that they fell in love with Chinese culture and language right here on campus — at UA's Confucius Institute.

When the opportunity arose to spend a year in China immersed completely in its language, traditions and literature, both embraced the challenge. They arrived at Henan University in Kaifeng in fall 2011 ready to learn and find common ground with the people they met along the way.

Leanna Brown, left, and a classmate, far right, met people from Tibet during a visit to Chinese Minorities Park in Beijing.

The journey was made possible through the UA Confucius Institute Henan Scholarship, which is offered through the Confucius Institute, in collaboration with Henan University.

As Americans, Brown and Anicas were assigned to the international dormitory, where they met students from several countries. Many, like the UA students, were enrolled in classes to learn to read, write and speak Chinese. In addition to traditional age students, there were individuals who had come to study out of a personal interest or to advance in their careers. With most, even with those who knew some English or Chinese, communication was challenging in the beginning.

Overcoming language barriers

Brown, who quickly made friends with a Japanese student, laughs as she recalls their early conversations in a blend of languages they called "Chinglish."  "When all else failed, we used Google Translate," says Brown, a graduate of Maple Heights High School who began taking Chinese language classes soon after arriving at UA.

Shannon Anicas takes in the cherry blossoms at a park in Kaifeng.

The honors student, who had started out as a culinary arts major, says she became interested in the business side. Now she is earning an interdisciplinary degree in international business and hospitality management.

Anicas, a native of Kiln, Miss., was a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, and lived in cities around the United States before settling in Ohio and earning an associate degree in medical assisting. Along the way, she also began freelance writing and enrolled at UA to major in communication.

Embracing challenges

"The 2008 Beijing Olympics reignited my interest in China, and once I started taking some classes, I just wanted to do and learn more," says Anicas, who became a student assistant at the Confucius Institute. "I started studying the language in fall 2009. It is tremendously hard, but so rewarding."

She has since combined her interests by pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in Chinese culture, business and communication. She will graduate in December.

Like most adult students, Anicas had been hesitant to return to school, and then felt unsure about studying abroad at age 40. She needn’t have worried.

"I was completely accepted," recalls Anicas. "I didn’t expect it, but it was very nice not to be treated differently. The Chinese respect age."

She not only adapted to life in the dormitory, but also came to love the ancient city of Kaifeng.

Exploring new world

"It has 5 million people, which is a small town by China standards, and yet it has a very rural feeling. There are gorgeous old trees and greenery, and many ornate buildings."

Leanna Brown visits the Great Wall of China with Zaya, a classmate from Mongolia.

Brown, too, enjoyed the city and visiting the sights, such as Millennium City Park. With her culinary background, she looked forward to sampling the many new dishes she found offered by the food vendors right outside Henan's gates.

The UA students had opportunities to visit other cities and their class often had field trips on Saturdays.

"I loved Hong Kong and Beijing — they had restaurants from all over the world," says Brown.

Still, there were adjustments to make, particularly for Brown, who had never traveled out of the country, or been away from family for so long.

"I got homesick, it was horrible, I admit it," says Brown with a smile. "I came home for Christmas and stayed until classes began in February."

Cultural understanding

As an African American woman, she experienced sharp cultural differences firsthand.

"The Chinese are very curious and they don't think it is rude to stare or ask personal questions," says Brown. "They wanted to touch my hair and, everywhere I went, they wanted to take pictures with me. When I would say yes, more people would come up and form a line. They all wanted a picture with me. I had to say no, as politely as I could, or I would not have had time to see or do anything when I left the campus.

Shannon Anicas is surrounded by young students in a Kaifeng classroom, where she taught English during her stay.

"At first, I wondered why," Brown continues. "Then, I felt angry. But I came to accept that it was just part of their culture. They notice everything, and they do ask questions, but it's because they are making an effort to get to know you and learn about your family. Family is very important to them."

One aspect of the culture Brown quickly came to appreciate was the simple approach to daily life.

"The Chinese live in the moment," she explains. "They take things more slowly and they enjoy what they are doing, while they are doing it."

The perspective gained by Brown and Anicas is exactly the goal of the study abroad experience, notes Holly Harris Bane, UA's associate vice president for strategic initiatives and partnerships.

Students gain global perspective

"For University of Akron graduates to be competitive in the global economy of the 21st century, they need a global education," says Harris Bane. "Over the last three years, 10 UA students have had the opportunity to study in China through generous scholarships from the Confucius Institute. The latest students to return will enter the marketplace with a broader and deeper understanding of our world."

In fact, Brown and Anicas are planning for careers in both countries.

Anicas, who hopes to improve others' understanding of Chinese culture, whether in a corporate or educational setting, would also like to teach in China.

"I want to teach English in Kaifeng," says Anicas, who taught English and Art of Public Speaking classes at Henan, and tutored the children of migrant workers, while pursuing her own studies.

Meanwhile, Brown hopes to begin her career in the hotel industry in the United States and then transfer to China. "My dream goal is to one day open a restaurant in America, and then open one in China."