Although the dream of studying abroad is a tremendous feat, the Li Ka Shing Liberal Arts Initiative was able to make the experience of student travel accessible for a fourth year. Thanks to one man's vision and generosity, an interdisciplinary group of McGill Arts students was able to spend a month in eastern China to study Mandarin this May.In 2013, Hong Kong businessman, philanthropist, and Shantou University founder Li Ka Shing made a generous donation to McGill, creating the Li Ka Shing Liberal Arts Initiative to promote exchange between the universities. One of them, the Intensive Chinese Language Program, is open to all Arts students who have at least a beginner’s level proficiency in Mandarin. With no program preferenced over another, a graduate student in Economics can be accepted as easily as an undergraduate in Anthropology, with all requirements met. With everything from food to accommodations, airfare, and tuition generously covered by the Li Ka Shing Foundation, students need only the determination to work hard upon arrival.
“The LKS Intensive Chinese language program offers the best possible opportunity for McGill students of Chinese to be fully immersed in an authentic Chinese environment, where they can transfer their knowledge of the language into communicative skills”, says Professor Bill Wang. Accompanying each cohort of students on the trip annually, Professor Wang is central to the program and especially dedicated to his students’ overall experience.
“It is such a wonderful experience for my students to learn not only language but also Chinese culture and local traditions and customs” says Professor Wang.
The program’s structure is completely immersed in Shantou’s life and culture, both in and out of the classroom. Each day offers different co-curricular activities that allow them to integrate into the greater community, applying their linguistic skills while also engaging with the local culture.
“Some of my favorite times were when we went out to eat with locals who would make us try new food, or when we had paper cutting and calligraphy classes where we could create our own piece. It’s these small things which made this month unforgettable and worthwhile”, one student recounted.
The success of the program is due in large part to the efforts of the host university. In 2017, Shantou recruited two full-time teachers for the program, and 30 of its students as tutors. With a yearly quota of twenty McGill students, the program’s one-on-one tutorials and community-oriented activities provide the supportive environment needed to truly grasp a complex language like Mandarin.
“The tutoring sessions we had every weekday were among the highlights of this program. We spent almost two hours learning about different themes relevant to everyday life, so not only did the session feel helpful, but it would also lead into deeper discussions, all in Chinese of course, about other parts of our lives”, said one Economics and East Asian studies undergraduate student.
The program takes experiential learning to a new level, making it possible for people who wouldn’t otherwise have the life-changing learning opportunity. Philosophy Professor Philip Buckley, Chair of East Asian Studies at McGill, calls it a “month-long tutorial” because of the collaboration and support he sees cultivated between the students and teachers each year.
“They were really a fantastic group. The teachers in Shantou told me how inspiring they found our students. The students helped each other a lot, studied together, and made it an optimal learning and life experience. We are very proud of them, and grateful to the Foundation.” Professor Buckley added that of central importance is the presence for the entire month of “Wang Lǎoshī”, an inspirational teacher at McGill for more than 2 decades: “not only does Professor Bill Wang assist our students, many of whom he taught in first year Manadarin, but he has helped the Chinese Instruction Program at Shantou to develop as well.”
And it wouldn’t be possible without Li Ka Shing and his Foundation’s partnership with McGill. Professor Buckley calls Li Ka Shing “a fascinating man”, with a life story that is both captivating and inspiring. From humble beginnings, Li dropped out of high school to work in a factory so he could provide for his family. After climbing the ranks, he opened his own manufacturing plant at 22, later founding his eponymous Foundation that he refers to as his “third son”. Indeed, McGill students are lucky to be the beneficiaries of Li’s philanthropic vision each year, as are the millions of others around the world who are supported by the Foundation’s contributions to healthcare and education. The Foundation’s world-wide reach is a testament to Li’s personal philosophy of selflessness and dedication to improving the world.
“Mr. Li Ka Shing actually talks the talk, and does it too. He is a true global citizen, and so is his philanthropy – he has a global vision and believes in developing economically through education. And he believes in the humanities as part of the story too.”