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Local Student is Studying in China
After Receiving Freeman Award

RELEASED: April 3, 2008

UW-Eau Claire students with group in China

UW-Eau Claire students Heather Sommer, center (wearing glasses), and Carl Hoover (just over Sommer's left shoulder) pose for a photo with other international students during a field trip from their studies at the Huawen Xueyuan campus extension of Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior from Eau Claire is studying in China this semester thanks to a $2,000 scholarship.

Heather Sommer received the Freeman Award for Study in Asia, which is enabling her to spend the 2008 spring semester studying at the Huawen Xueyuan campus extension of Jinan University at the College of Chinese Language and Culture in Guangzhou, China.

Sommer, an English major with a minor in language studies, is studying the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. Her courses include elementary Chinese, spoken Chinese, Chinese listening and Chinese characters. Her semester also has included numerous field trips to sites such as the famous five ram statue in Guangzhou, she said.

"We've all learned to navigate the bus system and take a taxi anywhere we need to — next we master the subway," Sommer said of learning her way around. "Eating here has been quite the experience. I am still adjusting, being a picky eater by nature. Right near campus is a small shopping alley, where a number of vendors sell various goods; it's a place you are able to bargain, if you're comfortable enough to do so."

While in China, Sommer also is beginning work on a collaborative research project funded by UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Sommer and junior computer science major Carl Hoover, Oconomowoc, hope to develop an algorithm and associated computer program capable of faithfully translating creative Chinese writing into English. While Sommer is learning as much as she can about Chinese grammar and syntax, she and Hoover, who is also studying in Jinan this semester, are still in the background research phase of their project.

"While there are a number of translators available, the quality — and price — vary greatly, and as far as we've found, none exist that can accurately account for the use of language in primarily creative texts," said Sommer. "Word-for-word translation also loses some of the color of the language that idioms, slang and metaphor express; often these are accessible only to those of the same culture."

Sommer said her future goals include finishing her English degree with a creative writing emphasis at UW-Eau Claire, and then volunteering abroad or spending a few years teaching English in Japan via the JET Programme. Her long-term goals include pursuing a master's degree in creative writing and a doctoral degree in linguistics or computation linguistics.

The Freeman-Asia Awards, administered by the Institute of International Education, support American undergraduates with demonstrated financial need who plan to study overseas in East or Southeast Asia. The awards are funded by the Freeman Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation dedicated to augmenting international understanding between the United States and the nations of East Asia, principally through educational grants.

"I applied because as a first-generation, low-income student, without the scholarship support I received, going abroad would not have been feasible," Sommer said.

For more information on the Freeman-Asia Awards, see their Web site.

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