Thursday, February 7, 2008


I'm applying for a scholarship to study Chinese-English interpretation, and they've asked for a broadly-defined "letter of interest," an explanation of why I want/deserve this opportunity.

This is the second draft. I think it's quite strong, but am still worried about it being too dense or prosaic. Any comments would be immensely appreciated.

Dear Scholarship Selection Committee,

I’ve been in China for almost two years now. I’ve worked here and studied here, traveled and translated, explored and researched and observed. Throughout my time in China, I’ve sought to maximize the points of contact between myself—my language, my culture, my ways of thinking—and the various expressions of this rich and complicated country.

It's an exchange.

In Beijing, an old tai chi master taught me how to breathe slowly and think clearly on freezing cold mornings in March. He spoke only Mandarin. When I didn’t understand, he simply smiled.

In Xi’an, a Chinese friend and I entered a karaoke contest on a whim. When we realized we didn’t like singing other people’s songs, we wrote our own Chinese rap lyrics and performed them to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” The crowd was in love.

Far in the north, where China meets Russia, I console a heartbroken friend about the girl he lost across the border. I can speak only one phrase of ancient Chinese, a Daoist aphorism: “With loss, there is also gain.” He looks at me skeptically, then laughs. We clink glasses and hug.

A constant and subtle exchange

In my experience, learning Mandarin has come hand-in-hand with learning how to successfully connect with others despite obvious barriers. This, in its most basic sense, is the role of an interpreter: to facilitate the exchange of information between parties that might otherwise be unable to communicate.

But an interpreter is more than just a passive conduit; the root word “interpret” implies a greater analysis, and an active role in helping subtle implications become clearly understood. An interpreter is more than simply a translator, who swaps words and reformats grammar. An interpreter is a steward, charged with that most delicate and crucial task of the modern age: guiding meaning and significance through the complex maze of language, culture, and ideology, and leading it safely and intact to its intended receiver.

I want to be an interpreter because I am passionate about this exchange, because I am enamored of the challenge and vitality of communication. To date, my Chinese language ability has allowed me to connect and exchange information with thousands of people in a culture very different from my own, an achievement I’m exceedingly proud of. I am applying for this scholarship because I believe further study—with a greater focus on interpretation as both a science and an art—will help me expand those exchanges between China and the West, and raise the quality of communication and understanding in an age where both are of increasing importance and demand.

I hope you will find me qualified for the 2008-2009 scholarship program, and am confident that any opportunity given to me will be an investment with enormous returns; not only in the personal development of a young linguist and communicator, but in the future of Sino-European exchange and the smooth transition to a truly global world.


La Mama said...

As the ancient American saying goes: "Just Do It!" Do you really need to wait until you hear from any possible person to respond (some of whom might be interested in the same job!) You already ran it by two GREAT writers! Move on. It's you and it's great! (P.S. Don't forget to tell them about your television gig there in Dalian.

Unique Sterling Silver Crosses said...

I came across your blog after you left a coment on Dave's blog. I really envy your life. As far as I can figure it out, you are almost fluent and make your money writing article. How else do you survive?

Unknown said...

Hey, is this the EU scholarship program? No advice, I'm afraid, but I know the guy who runs the interpreting program down in Shanghai, Andrew Dawrant, and he's an excellent fellow. It sounds like a really great program, and I'd be very interested in hearing about it from the inside, as it's something I've considered as well. Good luck!

Caitlin said...

hey buddy,

it's cate-o-rin stewart here. i just created a blog so i can record my experiences in japan for my buddies back home. i decided to put a link to your blog on mine, cause i think it's really interesting to read. hope you don't mind! and hope i see you in japan!

赵晨威 said...

La Mama: you're right... I've definitely noticed I have a tendency to use this blog for approval and confirmation before doing anything.

But what's wrong with tying your self-esteem to the approval of a cyberworld of strangers?

Nightmare Believer: to date, I have made $0.00 writing articles. And fluent isn't really in the game, either. I live mostly off some random gigs, a savings account, and a pathetically inexpensive lifestyle. But, I do have to admit, my life is pretty awesome.

Brendan, this IS the EU program, and I'm glad to hear there's a good captain on the ship down there. (a good captain on the scholarSHIP-- booya!) Thanks for your support, and for not applying in the same year! If it happens, you'll definitely have an inside man.

Caitlin: You rock, crazy girl. Your time in Japan is going to be what in the 90s they would have called "mad dope."