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William Olichney ’24 uses RISE grant for immersive language program in Mandarin

William Olichney ’24

Memories from his summer in Taiwan come quickly to William Olichney ’24.

Like the time he and a group of friends got lost on the way to the beach. Or, later that same day, when they stumbled upon a Sunday afternoon karaoke session.

He fondly remembered a trip with his host family to Taoyuan to make pottery and a visit with their youngest son to one of Taiwan’s night markets, open-air street fairs full of specialty food stalls, vendors, and entertainment.

“The stalls seem to go on forever,” said Olichney, who spent eight weeks in Taiwan as part of an immersive language program in Mandarin. “They sell every kind of snack imaginable, from squid or snake soup to boba tea. We would walk around, eat, and walk around until we got hungry again.

“I could mention all sorts of stories, which might not even sound exciting,” he added. “But the added level of needing to use Mandarin to navigate through made them unforgettable and fantastic.”

Olichney studied Mandarin through the American Councils for International Education’s Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program (TISLP).

He took four hours of classes a day at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, a mix of lectures, drilling practices, discussions, and one-on-one conversations. On weekends, students took cultural excursions to museums and historic sites. He also stayed with the aforementioned host family for a weekend.

Throughout it all, Olichney could never fall back on the crutch of speaking his native language.

“I love trying to circumlocute,” he said. “How do you explain your meaning if you don’t know a particular word? Paragraphs of other words. Bumbling around a more convenient word will also force you to practice speaking.”

He had previously studied Mandarin with Randolph professor Kun An, but knew he needed something more intense to become fluent.

“I needed an environment where I would be forced to practice my Mandarin alongside other competitive students,” he said. “Not only was the program necessary for improving my language skills, but it also improved my resiliency and cultural awareness.”

Olichney, a history and economics double major with a minor in Asian studies, was awarded a prestigious Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad (GPA) grant through the United States Department of Education.

The GPA program is designed to contribute to the development and improvement of the study of modern foreign languages through a variety of projects, including immersive language programs. The $7,915 grant paid for most of his tuition to TISLP, and a RISE grant covered his travel expenses.

Olichney called it one of the best experiences of his life.

“While the coursework was the most intense I’ve ever experienced, it was also the most gratifying,” he said. “I loved these classes so much. I always wanted to practice new grammar or vocabulary. Every week, my Mandarin improved immensely.”

He’d eventually like to attend graduate school for East Asian studies, but is also interested in policy analysis and design, international business, and trade.

“I study history and economics. In both of these disciplines, Mandarin-speaking countries are interesting and significant players,” he said. “Any educational route that leads me to use Mandarin and improve my research skills has been in my sights since my first year at Randolph.”

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