Majors: Chinese and International Business
Class of 2019
By Ana Mitchell
“The difference between learning a language and becoming fluent purely boils down to utilization,” described senior Sarah J-Agyeman. Pursuing a dual degree in Chinese and International Business, J-Agyeman has been learning languages all her life. She was born in the United States, but grew up in Ghana and New Zealand. By the time she was in high school, J-Agyeman could already speak three languages– English, Akan, and Ga.
The brain is a muscle that, like other muscles, need exercise in order to grow. “The brain is very attuned to learning languages if you’re exposed enough to it in your environment. As a second language learner, I can say that the number one thing I did to achieve fluency was to create a foreign language environment,” described J-Agyeman. Speaking, reading and writing, all utilize different parts of the brain that need to be equally trained, which is why she encourages language-learners to always make an effort to practice the target language, whether you’re good or bad.
In high school, J-Agyeman picked up Chinese because she wanted to learn a language that was different from anything else she had studied. She recalled the first year being extremely difficult, but after she got through the basics of the first year, the rest came much quicker. Her second year into learning Chinese, she participated in a speech competition and won second place at nationals in New Zealand. Her prize was an all-expenses paid, three-week trip to China. They stopped in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi-An, Chongqing, in addition to smaller cities and villages. Since then, J-Agyeman has been back to China six times, “I loved it so much that I just kept going back.” Fast forward a few years, and J-Agyeman won second place at an Ohio State language competition in New York.
Although J-Agyeman was raised with an international background from moving around when she was younger, it was her experience traveling to China that helped shape her academics at Ohio State. “Traveling to China was the most wonderful experience. I realized how much I love different cultures and I knew that whatever I was going to study in school would have to involve learning about different cultures and building bridges between them.”
Upon completing her undergraduate degree this semester, J-Agyeman will continue her education at Ohio State, pursuing a Master’s in Advanced Chinese Language and Culture. The Master’s is a two-year advanced Chinese language program that teaches students how to conduct research, negotiate, and operate in Chinese at an academic proficiency. “What this program is training us to do is to operate in the culture, research in the culture and go from studying Chinese as second language-learners to reading and analyzing materials written by the Chinese for the Chinese diaspora.”
The first year of the program will take place at Ohio State, while the second year is when J-Agyeman will pick a university and faculty in China with whom she will be conducting research in her domain of international business. J-Agyeman is excited about the program, as it will be honing in the skills that she has dedicated her life to– international development and East Asian studies.
Combining her cultural knowledge of Chinese language and culture with her studies in international business, J-Agyeman hopes to one day write literature about the evolving Chinese business environment. She hopes to explore the cultural barriers that hinder cross-cultural communication between the U.S and China. “What I have learned is that the Chinese are taught to be very flexible and so they assimilate to foreign environments rather quickly. But because America is arguably the center of the economic universe, we tend to be a little bit inflexible when we go to other countries, making our learning curves steeper. In my very unlearned opinion, this appears to be one of the main factors hindering cross-cultural communications and business in China and so I hope to expound on the other cultural barriers through my research.” She hopes to contribute to the conversation on both sides going forward. In addition to writing a book, J-Agyeman is interested in studying international trade and development, which she hopes will help her one day facilitate business relationships with China.
For J-Agyeman it is her passion for Chinese language and culture that keeps her pursuing her studies; “I guess that is the main reason why I keep studying and perfecting it. Every time I go to China, I feel like I am experiencing a different world and I feel so happy and free.”