Natchitoches – Nothing was going to stop Kiara Padilla from enrolling in the new Chinese course offered for the first time ever at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts this fall.
“Last year when I was told they would be offering Chinese, I knew I would do anything to take the class,” said Padilla, a senior from Fort Polk. “When scheduling came around, I had a bunch of conflicts, but I was determined to do whatever it took to get into a section.
“From emailing the teacher back and forth and completely rearranging my entire schedule, I was able to make it work, and so far it has been the highlight of my senior year.”
Padilla walks out of class each day eager to tell someone what she has learned.
“The class is going great,” she said. “I enjoy the structure of it, and it is the one class I always look forward to.”
LSMSA is one of only two or three schools in the entire state of Louisiana to offer Chinese as an option to fulfill the foreign language requirement needed to graduate.
“We see the addition of the Chinese language courses as a way that our students can experience another culture, diversify their transcript and college applications, and, perhaps most importantly, pursue their academic and intellectual curiosity,” said Dr. Kristi Key, director of academic services.
“Several students requested a non-western option for language study, and our research into academic trends noted that elite programs across the nation have been adding Chinese language programs alongside the traditional options in romance languages,” Key said. “We are thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity to our students.”
Leading the class is Leo Eisenlohr, who earned his B.A. in Chinese and Arabic from Ohio State University, his master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Chicago, and is currently in the doctoral program in East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
While there are only two sections available at this time, Eisenlohr plans to grow the curriculum in the future.
“I hope there are at least two levels and also some elective classes,” he said. “I am definitely doing a special project next semester that has to do with China.
“I hope to spread interest in things that are related to China and the Chinese language.”
Eisenlohr also does not want any student to be afraid to take Chinese because he or she thinks it will be too hard.
“There is an unfair mystique about the Chinese language,” he said. “It is not as hard as people think. It is just a language that people use to communicate the same kinds of things that we talk about.
“I want to impress on students to not approach it as if it is something super difficult. Don’t come to it with that attitude, that it is like some impossible challenge.”
One student was hesitant about enrolling in the course at first for that very reason, but is now glad that she did.
“I love Chinese class - it is so much fun,” said Aja Becker, a senior from New Orleans. “I almost did not take it because I thought it was way too different from English, but we are moving so fast, and I can already recognize a lot of traditional characters if I am looking at a text.
“We never have busy work; the class is always interactive, and Mr. Eisenlohr always makes sure each individual student understands before he moves on, so no one is left behind.”
There are many benefits to students who learn the Chinese language.
“There are so many opportunities in government and business for people who study Chinese,” said Eisenlohr. “So many opportunities for interacting with a huge segment of the world’s population that speaks the language.”
Two students immediately saw the benefit to them in learning the language.
“I chose to take Chinese because I knew that adding another language to my repertoire would be a good move,” said Rachel Judson, a junior from Lake Charles. “Learning Chinese will give me an edge that not many other Louisiana kids have. It is cool that we have access to a class like this.”
Veronica Sturman, a junior from Natchitoches, cited her love of travel as one reason she enrolled in the class.
“I love to travel and learn about other cultures, so any new language would be useful for me,” she said. “I also think that knowing Chinese will help me with finding a job later in life.”
Both Judson and Sturman plan to continue studying the language in the future.
“I will for sure take another Chinese class, because just one class is not enough to master the language,” said Judson.
Sturman added that Chinese is one of her favorite classes this year, and she looks forward to furthering her learning.
Other students embarking on learning the Chinese language include Emma Bates, a junior from Port Allen; Nathaniel Campbell, a senior from Prairieville; Myah Davis, a sophomore from Plaquemine; Shelin Huang, a sophomore from Morgan City; Jansen Jones, a junior from Natchitoches; Trey Martinez, a junior from Robeline; Lyrren Mwaghore, a senior from Luling; Emilyann St Blanc, a senior from Franklin;
Also, Samantha Wright, a senior from Crowley; Raymond Zheng, a junior from Natchitoches; Brielle Dunn, a junior from Denham Springs; Jeralyn Foy, a junior from Winnsboro; Aaron Gotte, a sophomore from Iota; Hannah Hauptman, a junior from Denham Springs; Steven Lin, a sophomore from Lafayette; Avaion Ruth, a junior from Brusly;
Also, Ryleigh Scott, a junior from Shreveport; Caitlynn Sengchiam, a junior from New Iberia; Victoria Sosa, a junior from Lake Charles; Kameron Southichark, a junior from New Iberia; and Marla Williams, a junior from Pitkin.