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Test decides students for Beijing program

by Beacon Staff • April 9, 2008

All 35 Emerson students enrolled in the Beijing Olympic News Service Program passed the mandatory exam administered Feb. 27 and 28 by the officials from the Beijing Organizing Committee. The test results, announced in mid-March, were the last factor determining who would travel overseas this summer.

The participants are the largest group asked to attend the Olympics out of the four other schools invited. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Missouri, Ithaca College and the University of Iowa will also be participating. The final 35 was gathered from a group of over 150 that applied in October.

The test evaluated the students' writing ability, interpersonal skills and manners and was judged by two senior members of the Olympic News Service.

"I think they were pleased with what they saw," said Paul Niwa, an assistant professor of journalism at Emerson. "There was a lot of anxiety around this because it would make or break who would go on the trip."

Niwa is a co-professor along with Shujen Wang of International Sports Reporting, the preparation class for the Beijing trip.

In the first half of the semester, the course served as preparation for the upcoming test and a basic overview of Mandarin, a Chinese dialect.

"It was daunting for me to take that test since I am not a journalism major," said Seth Adam, a senior theatre studies major and participant in the Beijing program.

"The exam went extremely well and Paul and Shujen did a wonderful job getting us ready," he said.

Adam said that learning Mandarin has been one of the largest hurdles in his experience.

"We are hoping the students gain enough information to be functional in Mandarin and be able to ask basic questions," said Wang, an associate professor of Visual and Media Arts who teaches the language aspect of the class and is fluent in Mandarin. "We want them to know how to order food, ask for directions and greet people before they depart for China."

According to Niwa, the students will only learn spoken Mandarin, due to the difficulty of learning the symbols in the Chinese language.

The course also supplies students with an overview of the Olympics, the events the students will report on, current issues in China and a briefing on the British style of journalism, which requires different spellings of some words.

"We are hoping to reduce the stress levels by giving them more information in the class room so they can focus on performing as journalists," Niwa said. "The cultural information is just as valuable as basic reporting training."

Niwa said students are also being briefed on the current tension between China and Tibet.

"It is very important to prepare yourself because a lot of people are relying on us," Adam said. "We will be reporting to media outlets all over the world and need to be reliable and report accurately."

Wang said she encourages students to take trips to Chinatown and investigate Chinese art around the area.

"This is a once in a lifetime experience and an excellent chance to do some traveling outside the US," Wang said. "This trip will have an effect on how they look at things and approach other cultures in their lifetime."

The journalists will spend approximately eight weeks in China, covering the track and field events of the summer Olympics. Students will have the opportunity to attend games, interview athletes, collect background information and feed their stories to other news organizations around the globe.

"We are all diverse, but everyone in the class is getting along wonderfully," Adam said. "This will be a very trying situation with the heat and pollution, but it will be great to have a lot of friends alongside you."