Critical Language Scholarship Program | Rena Wang
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Rena Wang

Lan­guage is so much more than the abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate. It’s the abil­i­ty to under­stand the thoughts, val­ues and cul­ture of oth­ers. Lan­guage over­comes bar­ri­ers, opens up our minds to new per­spec­tives and allows us to empathize and real­ize our shared humanity.”

Rena uses Chi­nese every day work­ing at the Asian Youth Cen­ter in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, a com­mu­ni­ty-based NGO whose mis­sion is to empow­er low-income, immi­grant, and at risk youth to over­come bar­ri­ers to suc­cess through the pro­vi­sion of cul­tur­al­ly and lin­guis­ti­cal­ly com­pe­tent edu­ca­tion, employ­ment, and social ser­vices.” The orga­ni­za­tion is fed­er­al­ly con­tract­ed, so hav­ing a cer­ti­fied lan­guage score from the CLS Pro­gram helped Rena to get hired. As a Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor, she acts as a bridge between ser­vices and clients by trans­lat­ing and hav­ing impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions with par­ents about their children. 

When you work with first-gen­er­a­tion immi­grants like I do, cross-cul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion and knowl­edge of cul­tur­al norms is imper­a­tive to under­stand behav­iors. For exam­ple, my cowork­ers who don’t know Chi­nese have asked if clients are angry at me, when real­ly we were just hav­ing a casu­al conversation.”

Rena and other CLS Changchun participants on a visit to the Chang Bai mountains

Rena par­tic­i­pat­ed in CLS Chi­nese in Changchun, Chi­na after grad­u­at­ing with her master’s in pub­lic health in 2018. She has had a close con­nec­tion with Chi­na through­out her life as a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion immi­grant and her­itage speak­er of Chi­nese. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she and her sis­ter would return to Chi­na fre­quent­ly to vis­it their dad and to train for bad­minton, which allowed them both lat­er to rep­re­sent Team USA at the Olympics. Her par­ents and sis­ter cur­rent­ly live in Chi­na, and while through­out her life she has vis­it­ed South­ern Chi­na numer­ous times, trav­el­ing with a cohort of CLS stu­dents in a lan­guage learn­ing envi­ron­ment opened a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence of Chi­na for her.

It exposed me for the first time to North­ern Chi­na and expand­ed my under­stand­ing of the coun­try and its diver­si­ty. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in CLS also deep­ened my sense of iden­ti­ty as an Asian Amer­i­can, giv­ing me a chance to wres­tle with not feel­ing Amer­i­can or Chi­nese enough and chal­lenged my rela­tion­ship with race, pow­er and privilege.”

Rena’s par­ents were very sup­port­ive of her explor­ing her roots by learn­ing more about cul­ture and lan­guage. Grow­ing up, she was made to attend Chi­nese class­es each week­end and it felt like a bur­den to her. Now, she has found new mean­ing and moti­va­tion to learn the language.

The most mean­ing­ful part about learn­ing Chi­nese has been the pos­i­tive impact it has had on my rela­tion­ship with my par­ents and fam­i­ly. I now real­ize that a lot of our ten­sion grow­ing up orig­i­nate from cul­tur­al bar­ri­ers, so I am thank­ful that I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bet­ter under­stand the world they come from. Learn­ing Chi­nese has deep­ened my rela­tion­ship with my par­ents and fam­i­ly and allowed me to empathize with the Chi­nese immi­grant fam­i­lies that I work with.”


Alumni Profiles

Rena Wang
Rena Wang
Chinese 2018
Changchun, China

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Posted Date

November 26, 2019