Haoyan (Ken) Wang

Credentials: Languages: Mandarin, English, German

Position title: Undergraduate Student in Political Science, International Studies, and Journalism; Graduate Student in Accelerated Master of International Public Affairs

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at UW-Madison. And how does language intersect with your work or your studies?

I think a lot of things I do here is to provide support for students in the Political Science community, and in my extracurriculars I combine my love for international affairs and writing. That’s why I joined the Wisconsin International Review. I write my opinions about certain international events. So some of the things I’ve covered, like, the U.S. pull out from Afghanistan, the China self-power in terms of the hosting of the Winter 2022 Olympics. Some of the recent ones I’ve written about: the rise of white nationalism in United States, performative activism in some of the European countries when activists throw food on art, things like that. I do that because I feel like right now with the increasing internationalization and globalization, there is not really borders anymore, because you can travel and see things from other countries very, very easily. And to me now, being a citizen doesn’t necessarily just mean you owe your allegiance to one country, but you’re also becoming a global citizen in a globalized society, which is why I enjoy writing about international events. Because I do think they have effects on our lives. Especially being an international student that’s very obvious; I think that most people don’t see.

So right now I am a writing fellow for German 276, which is “Germanic Identity” and “Germanic Barbarians.” So because I have had that German background, when I read students essays, I could point out historical inaccuracies if they make that mistake or sort of leading, asking questions, pushing them to think and explore more about the German culture, because I have had that background. And I think overall to speak different languages allow me to communicate easily with different people. Because as you learn more languages, not only it’s a tool for you to communicate with people who speak different languages. Like I speak Chinese with Chinese students during SOAR. I didn’t have the chance to speak German this year, but last year I did. But I did meet a lot of exchange students from Austria and Germany, with whom I just speak German with them, and they’re surprised that, one, I could speak German and two, it allows me to communicate with them more naturally because there are words that you can’t translate into English which is nice. And also just understanding that there are different cultures and people with different interesting backgrounds is also important, especially at UW, which is an increasingly diverse learning environment for students. So just having that cultural competency and understanding, I think it’s important as a student and as a global citizen.

How do you feel your languages contributes to your personal identity? 

Well, it’s certainly my identity as an international student, because of that. I think I’m very proud of my Chinese heritage – that’s home. That’s where I come from. So sometimes when I speak Chinese it’s a bond between my family and me. Because I only speak Chinese with them or some students here. It makes me feel sort of closer to home when I speak Chinese. I think, in terms of German and English, it helps me emerge into the culture more, because, in my opinion, I do believe that language is a significant part, it’s very representative, of a culture. So I think by speaking English and German I am emerged in the culture of English- and German-speaking countries, and I think that fulfills my purpose of being an international student, because being abroad, you’re supposed to learn the culture, learn the language. But I think it just helps me grow as a person, as a student, to learn all these different things. And on top of that, of course, the ability to communicate with people who speak different languages.

How do you feel your languages contributes or add value to your work or studies? 

I think the most important part is, it allows me to look at things from different perspectives. Because I think that’s another benefit about learning a different language, because different languages have different expressions, different slangs, but sometimes they overlap. You learn how to express things differently. You’re looking at the same thing from different perspectives. I think that’s really important as a student, because it allows me to be open-minded, to accept new things, or embrace new things, new perspectives, more easily. It has helped me to listen to disagreements, different opinions, and I learned to respect that. Each person is entitled to their own opinions, even though some of them might sound outrageous. But you have to respect the right of other people to disagree with you. So it allows me to be more open-minded, more tolerant of disagreements. And I just think that’s just beneficial in general.

To what extent do you feel others on campus value your languages in the context of your work/studies at the University? 

I think a lot of my peers… are surprised that I speak three languages. Because it rarely comes up in conversations, but a lot of my friends do know that I speak Mandarin and German in addition to English. I think sometimes it surprises some of the exchange students the most because they wouldn’t expect anyone in the United States to speak German. But there are people who do that here, especially in Wisconsin. So I think that way it opened doors for me. Not necessarily in a respect way, but just more so… it’s something that we have in common, and can easily bond over, that we’re both German speakers…  My friend Lara, from Austria, and I, we pretty much had brunch every Friday just to speak German and talk about things which was really good. I think a lot of people are amazed at people who are multilingual because it’s something that I feel like not common here in the United States. So I think a lot of people are more amazed than many other things. And it certainly helped me bond over with some of the German professors here. And of course, Professor Ringe from the Political Science department was happy that I could speak German, because sometimes in his classes he would use some certain German words that are not so easily explained in English, which I could understand that, because of the language training that I have had. I just think it helps me to bond with people and open doors for me.

Have you experienced/observed linguistic prejudice or discrimination? If so, could you describe what happened? 

This is actually something I’ve thought about many times… it’s almost always the case that it’s a compliment, but it can be taken as a microaggression. So, for example, a lot of people who I met for the first time when I told them I’m from China, they would say, “oh, wow! Your English is really good.” Granted, that’s a compliment. That’s how I take it, almost always. But sometimes to me that could be construed as a microaggression, because just because I don’t look like an American doesn’t necessarily mean I couldn’t speak English as well as an American. I think there is that underlying assumption that just because I’m an international student, I must have an accent, or I should have an accent, and the fact that I don’t is amazing. Granted, that’s a compliment, but that’s a compliment I try not to use when I talk to other people… Sometimes it’s also like the way they say. I know a lot of people who have said that means well, and are very, very genuine about it. That’s a sincere compliment. But sometimes when people don’t say it right, to me it’s like, okay, so you were expecting an accent. I don’t appreciate that, but I know you mean well… most of my friends don’t say that. Actually, it’s almost always the case that my friends have never said that to me – my friends never say oh, your English is well. Even my roommate’s mom, who I’m really close with, even she wouldn’t say that. She would say, there are some words that would give you away, but that’s okay. She never said, “wow, your English is so good!” So I just felt like that people should be a little bit more mindful when you compliment someone’s ability to speak English. You can tell them you write really well in English – I think that’s a compliment for anyone – but in terms of speaking it’s tricky, because you do have to say it in the right way, if that makes sense. Also, I got students assumed that I was American born Chinese because of that which I feel like, okay, but you shouldn’t assume anything. I told the student that it’s not okay to just assume that because there are a lot of things wrong with it, and I hope that student learned after I told him that.

How does linguistic diversity add to the richness of the various communities you navigate?

I think it represents different groups… international equity is as an important issue, a big problem here at UW to me. I think, by representing, by promoting that here we have different language speakers, you’re putting the spotlight on different communities, whether that can be English, Chinese, German, or even some of the Indigenous language that Native Americans speak. You are highlighting that they’re an important part of the community, that they matter, that you want people to know that there are different languages, there are different representations. I think that’s really, really important, especially for some of the underrepresented communities where they intersect with internationality here. Because to me, as an international student, sometimes that felt hidden. We’re not highlighted on any school’s website. We’re not highlighted on the social media. We’re not highlighted or encouraged in any way. This is something I talked to all my friends, is that even in the career aspect, international students are not represented. Because, all the newsletters from different departments and stuff, granted, we’re a part of the university so all the events that the university host we could go to. But often the times where there is a really good opportunity, you go to the page, and the first thing you see the requirement for application is, you have to be a permanent resident or a U.S. citizen. To apply, therefore, the burden of finding opportunities falls on the shoulder of international students, which shouldn’t be the case. So, I think what I liked about this campaign that you’re doing, is by promoting linguistic diversity, you’re also promoting the presence of different communities on campus, different marginalized communities on campus, nonetheless. And I think that’s a really good step towards achieving international equity. Because a lot of people who speak different languages here are probably international students – I would say, most often the cases. I think people don’t realize this, but speaking a different language is a great bonding tool to other communities. All my friends got excited when they told me they’re hosting an Austrian exchange student, and I’ll say, “that’s really cool,” and they’re like, “yeah, you could speak German with her if you want to.” I was like, “deal.” So the first time I met her, I introduced myself to her in German, and then we started speaking German all night long, and that started a beautiful chapter of friendship. It just allows you to meet more people, and it’s easier for them to open up to you, too, because of that. Language carries a lot of things like identity, where you are from, shared culture. So even if you’re not from that country, but by the mere fact that you speak that language, it will allow you to get to know another person who shares the same language very easily, because you can communicate more easily. I think that’s another aspect that people often ignores, is that it allows you to meet people and get to know them fairly quickly if you have that shared language. I think even in English that’s the case, right? Like you and your friends group, you guys have certain sayings or expressions that everybody in the friends group know. You have inside jokes. People don’t realize it, but that’s a way of manipulating language to express a shared group identity. I think that’s something people often ignored or taken for granted.

In what ways do you believe the campus community can better recognize the value that linguistic diversity brings to the community? 

Well, certainly this campaign is doing that which I so appreciate… And I think the first step, in my opinion, is to make multilingual international students more visible in the eyes of the public. Granted, UW-Madison is a public school. There may not be as many international students as some of the private schools. But given that we are a large, a really large school… make us visible. Put us on our social media. I like the little video that UW Admissions did with people speaking different languages. But that’s one video out of how many that they post, or one post out of maybe hundreds of posts, that there is one. I think more frequent representation on social media, more appearances. And also when you make a video, or for every public statement you make, for every news you make, even on our website, you should have the option to translate into whatever language that’s available. You have to realize international students speak English because we have to. But our parents may not be English speakers. How do you make it accessible for the family to go through, navigate, the school’s website should something happen? They only do it for the big ones, but for the small ones you should do it too because people care. Overall, I really do think that in the digital age, certainly more frequent appearances on the social media. I think it’s ironic because I’m a part of the J School, and J School does have a lot of international students and faculty in in it, but rarely we don’t see them featured, and we’re journalists… I think that’s really ironic. But feature us more, and encourage more. If an international student got a great hire, highlight that on your social media. Don’t just say, UW senior, but just say “UW international student” or “UW senior who is an international student” – highlight that, because that is a part of who we are. At least that’s how I see myself. Every time I introduce myself to a student, I would say, I am an international student from Beijing, China. I’m a senior, I’m international; because that’s just a big part of who I am. More representation – more frequent representation, I should add. There are a lot of Admissions stuff that went out recently. They were like, okay, this is how our procedure goes. But maybe say something more about international applicants, right? How they could do things? Because there are different components to the application that are special to international students. Put that on your social media, because I want to see that. If I’m a frequent Instagram user, I want to see that; I want to know what’s going on. Put our pictures on your website. You go through UW website – maybe one in fifty photos there will be an international student that’s highlighted there. I don’t think that’s right. You only see international students on the International Student Services website. In more practical terms, hire international students as your tour guide. If that’s the first contact that a lot of people have with UW is through tours, hire international students as our tour guide; hire multilingual tour guides. Chinese population, Indian population, those are very big here. Hire Chinese tour guide who can speak Chinese to parents who don’t speak English. I think all of that are good steps for the community to better understand or better promote the linguistic diversity. The thing is, the administration is not doing anything which I’m really frustrated. They’re not even hiring ISS advisors who have lived abroad, and who had to get visas. If on the website, they say, “okay, you go here.” Then I go to that website, I have to read through fifty pages of procedures just about how to do that. Sure, my English ability is great. That’s not a problem for me, but for students who just got here who want all of those things, you need someone there with the experience to guide the student through the steps. That’s why we have ISS, right? Not just for some paperwork, but for a lot of other things.

Is there anything else you would like to add that you haven’t spoken about already?

I think another thing that you could do to promote linguistic diversity, you don’t have to make it all about international students or multilingual speakers, but you could also encourage domestic students how to interact more with international students. We just had the Diversity Forum which was great. Maybe have a forum that highlight international students and faculty. Have a panel, have international students on stage, talk about their experiences. Or make sure that we’re in classrooms – make it a requirement. You say, for example, you have to do a profile of the international student. Make it a requirement. I think these are easy steps that the university could take, but for some reason they’re not taking it.