Global Student Spotlight: Sara Feng


Global Student Spotlight: Sara Feng

Using Cultural Knowledge to Share and Help Chinese Language Students
Sara Feng image student with peace sign fingers, other students in background

ourth year international student Sara Feng introduces us to Shea House, a UVA’s on-grounds residential site for immersion in seven languages. She talks about her global experiences and why she became a Shea House language assistant.

You’re the Chinese Language Assistant for Shea House. Tell us a little bit about Shea House and your role.

Feng: Shea House is a great multilingual dorm. As one of the language assistants (LAs), my role is ensuring a good language learning environment and encouraging students' learning interests. For example, we have language dinners four times a week. In the language dinners, we talk in our target language and share about our daily life. I feel that the language dinners are more casual, and they give the chance to learn a language more immersively. Also, we have the language corner events once a week for at least one hour, sometimes more. One example would be the Spring Festival for Chinese culture and language learners. We work with Chinese student organizations and the Chinese department to organize the festival. We have two parts, one is a big show in Old Cabell, whereas the other is more interactive. It is open for all students, no matter how proficient their Chinese is. This is a good chance for people to get involved with some hands-on opportunities. In these events, we practice not just grammar, as often happens in language classes, but also things such as calligraphy and culture.

How did you get involved with Shea House?

Feng: Before I joined Shea House, I organized some events about Chinese culture and I met some professors in the Chinese department who introduced me to the Shea House. I love living in this dorm because it is more student-run, and students have power to organize the events, etc. This is more engaging and interesting to me. I design all the topics for the dinners and for the corner events. I also have a Chinese cultural background and have studied in Beijing for more than ten years, so I have the familiarity with the culture to bring up current issues and related topics with the students. I want to help students and develop their interest into skills in language and knowledge of the culture.

Students standing around a table with meat and vegetables to cook in hot pot
Hot Pot Dinner at Shea House

I know there are many struggles in school and if I can make students feel like learning a language is not struggling and I can be a model for the Chinese language learners, that makes me happy.

What is your favorite global experience you’ve had in the Shea House or at UVA?

Feng: The Spring Festival event is my favorite experience for two reasons. First, the Spring Festival is the largest festival for all the Chinese people at UVA. Secondly, people put in so much effort to participate and even bring friends from outside Shea House who are not even learning Chinese but find ways to engage with Chinese culture through this event.

What are you studying at UVA?

Feng: I am double majoring in Computer Science and Statistics with a focus on finding patterns in the data and machine learning. I feel like my major is totally different from what I do in Shea House. Because of my major in math and science related, I don’t need to engage with large groups in the same way, but living in the residential college I get the chance to give, to make students feel better and feel happy. I get to help with their language learning experience with my own experiences in China, experiences which won’t be possible for all the language learners. I know both the American and Chinese perspectives and I’m in my fourth year, so I have a lot to share. I know there are many struggles in school and if I can make students feel like learning a language is not struggling and I can be a model for the Chinese language learners, that makes me happy.

What would be your advice to students looking for global opportunities at UVA?

Feng: Take action earlier! Time passes faster than you think. UVA provides many options for global opportunities. Shea is one of the best choices among them. Try different and new things!