Annie Sullivan-Chin '08

Annie Sullivan-Chin '08

Winner of Barbara Yen Sun Prize Fund

When I was a first-year, I started taking Chinese because it was unlike any language I had ever experienced. Since I was young I have loved learning languages, but despite my Chinese heritage I could barely count to ten by the time I entered Mount Holyoke. I had been to China once before, when I was fourteen: my father, sister and I traveled to Beijing for two weeks with my grandmother as our guide. None of us knew any Chinese but her, and I remember feeling a profound sense of disconnect with the multitude of people that surrounded me. There were so many people, but I could not communicate with any of them. I remember thinking that as a visitor, it was my responsibility to resolve that disconnect, and I vowed to return to China someday--but to learn Chinese first.

Throughout my course of study at Mount Holyoke, I have realized a passion for sociolinguistics within the context of Chinese language. I have traveled to Beijing and studied at both Peking University and the Beijing Language and Culture University. My experience in Beijing was invaluable because I was able to observe the cultural and political center of modern China. China has undergone the fastest urbanization in human history; the social and economic disparity between urban and rural culture is severe.

I have realized that again, I must return to China, but next time I will travel to regions beyond the cultural centers where local customs and dialects differ greatly from urban standards. My experience writing a senior thesis in Asian Studies has been integral to my discovery of the true cultural and linguistic diversity of the people within this land's vast geography. I am honored to receive the Barbara Yen Sun Prize for my research in nüshu--a writing system created by women in rural southern Hunan. Through my research, I have learned a tremendous amount about this small and isolated community of linguistically sophisticated women. However, I have also developed a capacity to critically examine the scholastic literature I encounter in my research process. This has been the most valuable skill that I have developed through my research--one that will certainly serve me well beyond the gates of Mount Holyoke.