Nathan Foster, a junior, at the University of North Dakota, will spend 41 weeks in Taiwan
As they say in China, Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià.
And as the University of North Dakota junior Nathan Foster might agree, ain’t it the truth.
The saying is by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and Foster can interpret it in a number of ways. The first is literal, because Foster is a student of Mandarin. So, the words from Mandarin translate into a saying familiar in English: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
But Foster, a political science major and native of Hoffman Estates, Ill., has a deeper connection to the saying, because his own journey began in a way that a modern Lao Tzu would appreciate: with a single checkmark on a high-school course selection form.
“I was in eighth grade, and was looking with a friend at our choices for the next year,” Foster recalled.
“We saw the language courses available, but weren’t all that interested in Spanish. Then we saw Chinese, and thought, ‘Sure, why not? Could be fun.’”
The Boren Awards
That was in 2014, as Foster was preparing to enter James B. Conant High School in Hoffman Estates. He continued to study Chinese throughout high school and at UND; and now, he’s preparing to depart in the fall for Taiwan.
That’s because earlier in April, Foster won a Boren Scholarship, a prestigious award from the federal government that’ll pay for him to live and study Mandarin in Taiwan for the upcoming academic year. After that and a December 2022 graduation from UND, he’ll be called upon to serve in a U.S. government post for a year.
After that, if all goes well, Foster is hoping to continue to pursue a U.S. government intelligence or foreign service career.
“And it all started from a conversation back in eighth grade,” Foster said. “It’s very crazy.”
First in 18 years
The last time UND had a Boren scholar was in 2003, said Yee Han Chu, Academic Support and Fellowship Opportunities Coordinator at UND.
“Nathan has amazing humility that masks his incredible achievements as a student,” said Chu.
“He has been learning Mandarin since he was a freshman in high school. He has served as the president of UND’s Chinese Club and in the same year was a research assistant to his Chinese professor, while maintaining exemplary grades.
“I am so glad that Boren was able to see his potential to work successfully in the government intelligence field.”
Thank you, Teacher Chan
For his part, Foster credits his high-school Chinese teacher, Lichien Chan, for helping him maintain his interest at a critical time. “We called her Chén lǎoshī, or Teacher Chan,” he said. “She was the teacher for my class throughout all four years of high school. And she really inspired me, as we learned about all the components of the language – the tones, the culture, the Chinese characters that are used in writing.”
In Taiwan, Foster will live with a host family that speaks no English, and he’ll study Mandarin at a language school for at least four hours a day. “So it’ll be total immersion,” he said.
“I have studied Mandarin for about six years now, but the opportunity to finally immerse myself in the language is something I could not do without the Boren.
“My Boren experience will not only be the experience of a lifetime, but here’s hoping it also serves as a starting point for a career in government,” he continued. “I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to have been selected for this scholarship.”