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February 28, 2024

Spotlight on Dr. Sophia Ying Wang, Faculty in Chinese Language and Culture


Sophia Ying Wang

“When I saw the pictures of the campus for the first time, I was deeply attracted. The natural surroundings displayed a captivating beauty and tranquility,” shares Dr. Sophia Ying Wang, faculty in Chinese Language and Culture, on her first impressions of Simon’s Rock.

Wang has been a member of the faculty since 2021. When reflecting on her future aspirations in academia, Wang envisioned something very close to the natural beauty of the Simon’s Rock campus. “I immediately recalled that I went to a small liberal arts college in California for a conference about five years ago. I was struck by its campus — a serene haven adorned with forests and mountains. To my surprise, I encountered a couple of deer there. At that moment, I thought, ‘If I could work on such a campus in the future, that would be great,’” says Wang.

Living among nature, which often includes run-ins with native Massachusetts mountain critters, could not be a better endorsement for the Simon’s Rock experience. “Fast forward to today,” says Wang. “I find myself at Simon’s Rock, where the daily landscape includes the presence of deer, foxes, rabbits, and even the occasional sighting of bears. This has truly fulfilled the aspiration I once envisioned in California.”

When not exploring the natural environment of the campus, Dr. Sophia Ying Wang serves as an assistant professor of Chinese language and culture at Simon’s Rock, where she teaches Chinese language courses at all levels, as well as offering advanced Chinese literature courses for students who are native speakers and heritage speakers.

Before making her home here in the Berkshires, Dr. Wang received her Master’s degree from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University in China, and Ph.D. degree from the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She also served as a teaching fellow at UCLA, a Chinese lecturer at Pomona College, and a research assistant professor in Jao Tsung-I Academy of Sinology at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Not only is Dr. Wang an accomplished academic, she is also a Chinese flute player and an active member of the Chinese Kun Opera Society of Los Angeles. “During the past several years, I have collected thousands of videos and audio recordings of Chinese Kun Opera performances, including some rare versions,” shares Wang. “I would love to utilize these resources to introduce traditional Chinese opera and music to all interested students.”

Here at Simon’s Rock, Wang describes her Chinese language courses at all levels as “student-centered and discussion-based” in a classroom environment where all students are “eager to attain grammatical knowledge and vocabulary development as well as real-life communicative strategies.” In the 2022 fall semester, Wang designed and taught a new language and literature course (CHIN 320 Masterpieces of Chinese Fiction) tailored specifically for native Chinese speakers. “This course was designed to engage students with an advanced level of proficiency in Chinese, providing them with the opportunity to delve into the world of Chinese fiction’s most celebrated works,” describes Wang. “The course follows a discussion-based structure, fostering active engagement among students. Students demonstrated a high level of participation, engaging in lively conversations and presenting their analyses of the fictional works.”

After this course, some students expressed a desire to explore more Chinese fiction. Wang was eager to respond to this enthusiasm and consequently proposed and taught a new modular course in the spring semester of 2023, entitled CHIN 321 m1 Chinese Supernatural Tales: Immortals, Ghosts, and Fox Spirits. In this fascinating new course, Wang describes students and teacher embarking on “an intriguing journey through classical Chinese supernatural tales, examining their foundational narratives and tracing their evolution across various narrative genres in pre-modern China.” Wang adds: “Moreover, we explored cinematic and television adaptations of some of these tales, as well as the modern reinterpretations by contemporary writers. This approach allowed us to observe how these old stories continue to acquire fresh and meaningful interpretations within contemporary society. In the creative writing project at the end of the course, I was very glad to see my students were able to create their own fantastic supernatural stories.”

What is Dr. Wang’s favorite part of teaching? “This academic year, I take great pleasure in teaching our Academy students,” answers Wang. “Despite their youth, they do display enthusiasm for learning Chinese, actively participating in class discussions and practicing speaking and writing Chinese. Another source of excitement stems from the diverse composition of my Chinese courses…Having the increased inclusivity in my Chinese courses at Simon’s Rock is especially gratifying.”

Dr. Wang shared that her favorite (and most exciting) professional accomplishment over the past two years has been the successful establishment and ongoing development of the Chinese Language and Culture Concentration. “The concentration proposal was approved in the spring of 2022, and its positive impact has already become evident,” says Wang. “In the spring semester of 2022, one of my students from CHIN 101 made the pivotal decision to pursue dual concentrations — theater and Chinese — and subsequently enrolled in the BA program at Simon’s Rock.”

“In the spring of 2023, a student who had been part of my CHIN 205 course enthusiastically decided to choose the Chinese concentration and pursue their BA degree at Simon’s Rock. Furthermore, three other students who are currently enrolled in my CHIN 204 course this semester have demonstrated a keen interest in joining the Chinese concentration. In light of the increasing demand for concentrators and potential concentrators, I have plans to offer two advanced Chinese language courses in the next academic year.”

With so much already accomplished here on campus, what’s next for Dr. Wang at Simon’s Rock? “Our Chinese concentration is eagerly anticipating its first graduate, who will be completing her studies at the end of the upcoming spring semester,” says Wang. “This student is pursuing dual concentrations in Chinese and theater, showcasing her diverse talents and interests. Her senior thesis is to create an English play and subsequently translate it into Chinese.”

“I am eagerly looking forward to contributing to the final stages of this captivating project. During the 2024 spring semester, another Chinese concentrator will study in Taiwan. This is a pivotal step in her academic journey. I believe this opportunity will greatly improve her Chinese and deepen her understanding in Chinese culture, daily life, and society, and further develop her skills to independently observe Chinese language patterns and socio-cultural aspects related to language.”

In adjacent news, Dr. Wang was thrilled to co-host a Chinese Lunar New Year party with provost Dr. John Weinstein. In celebration of this important Chinese festival in February, Dr. Wang, and Dr. Weinstein invited all students in Chinese courses to: “make and eat dumplings together, which is a cherished Chinese custom symbolizing unity, good fortune, and the promise of a prosperous year ahead. I believe it will bring a delightful and enriching cultural experience to our community.”

What else does Dr. Wang want to share with Simon’s Rock and the larger community? “I sincerely hope more and more students will be taking Chinese language and culture courses, and joining our Chinese concentration in the future. Language courses should not merely pass along professional knowledge to students, but should open their eyes to a whole world outside of the US,” says Wang.

“As an instructor of Chinese, it is my personal calling and mission to mentor and encourage students to empathize with people different from themselves and to understand the diversity of culture and society. I would love to help students get to know the struggles and aspirations of Chinese people and to set up a framework through language teaching within which transnational and cross-cultural dialogues can emerge and thrive.”