FLAS spotlight: Meilinda Sun
Computer science major Meilinda Sun, '22 received a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship from the Center for East Asian Studies to study Japanese at Middlebury's Summer Language School in the summer of 2022. Read more about her experience below.
Why did you apply for the FLAS fellowship, and what drew you to this particular subject?
Since I just graduated, I wanted to take the opportunity before I started my job to improve my Japanese. I had finished first year Japanese at Stanford but wanted to build a strong enough foundation in Japanese so that I could continue to make decent progress independently as a working professional. As a computer science major, I knew that Japan had a huge presence in technology and media. I also love fashion, and the combination of creative industries and technology in Japan made the language extremely appealing. I also find Japan's social issues (hikikomori, salaryman/work culture) extremely fascinating to study. On top of all of this, I was attracted to Japan's unique culture, festivals, cuisine, and much more. On a linguistic level, I think the Japanese language is incredible. As a Chinese speaker, I was also curious about the linguistic anthropology of Japanese and Chinese. Throughout my time at Middlebury, it was fascinating to observe firsthand the ways in which the Japanese and Chinese languages interacted throughout time (Japan's unique usage of the Chinese writing system, as well as the creation of new words with Chinese characters that China then borrowed as loanwords, etc.). From an industry, linguistic, and cultural perspective, Japanese was an obvious choice for me!
What did you do for your FLAS fellowship? In addition to the language training and area studies research, did you travel to any conferences to present your research or publish your findings?
The language pledge made me extremely comfortable speaking in Japanese – since we were not allowed to speak in any other language, the pledge forced me to get comfortable with the fact that I would make a lot of mistakes; once I was able to accept this, I became more and more comfortable expressing myself in Japanese! It was so special to experience the pledge with my fellow classmates in Japanese school. Because of the pledge, we underwent something that few people have ever experienced – my friends and I still have Zoom calls in Japanese to practice. All kinds of people were at Middlebury–professionals whose jobs require speaking Japanese, undergraduates, grad students doing research about Asia–but we were all united by our love of the language and culture as well as the language pledge. At Middlebury, I made friends with people from all walks of life whom I would never have met otherwise. At Middlebury, you get so close with your classmates because you do literally everything together – due to the pledge, you can't go out to other schools and talk to other people!
What have you learned from this experience?
On weekends, we'd drive to the beautiful waterfalls and rivers of Vermont, swimming, having picnics, and chatting in Japanese. I miss it so much! Middlebury is a small town, and all of the language schools create a unique international environment where everyone is working toward learning their respective languages. Every day I would hear Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, and many more languages spoken by students from the other language schools. It's a beautiful and rare community that is so special to me.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you so much. I'm infinitely grateful for this chance. I had the most incredible time at Middlebury, learned so much, and made so many friends. Just yesterday I hung out with one of my former teachers in NYC where I currently live. I now work full-time, but I'm planning to continue (slowly) going through the textbook for the next level.