Sophomore awarded prestigious Fulbright-Hays scholarship to study in China

Nicolae Dorlea ’17 will spend eight months studying in China as a Fulbright-Hays scholar. Photo by Jordan Thomas '15.
Nicolae Dorlea ’17 will spend eight months studying in China as a Fulbright-Hays scholar. Photo by Jordan Thomas '15.

Nicolae Florin Dorlea ’17 knows the value of opportunity.

Born in Romania, the international relations and East Asian studies double major says he used to dream about coming to America. “At the time, I couldn’t think of anything better,” he says.

He got the chance at age 9, moving to the United States with his family. He quickly learned English and committed himself to his education. He loved learning a different language and culture, and soon decided he had to know more about the whole world.

In high school, Dorlea studied French and also took an introductory Chinese course that included a three-week trip to China. He vowed to go back.

Next month, he will. Dorlea is one of only 16 students selected to participate in the highly prestigious Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad Advanced Chinese Immersion Program through the China Program Center at UMass Boston. The program, a fully funded semester-long Chinese language immersion program, includes 19 weeks of study at Shaanxi Normal University, a two-week homestay with a host family during the Chinese New Year celebration and a six week internship at Xi’an High Tech Industries Development.

“I’m really looking forward to gaining inter-continental business experience,” says Dorlea, who hopes to become a diplomat and is particularly interested in intercultural exchange and cross-cultural negotiations. “I also want to be as close to fluent as possible, because the fun part starts after you’ve gained fluency in the language.”

As a first-year student at Connecticut College, Dorlea enrolled in “China and Global Modernity” with Associate Professor of Chinese Yibing Huang. Through the course, he learned about Chinese art, poetry and modernization from a cultural, self-expressionistic perspective. He was hooked.

“Chinese culture is so different and unique, and everyone wants to define it,” says Dorlea. “China is very liberal, just not our kind of liberal.”

Dorlea, who speaks English, Romanian, French and some Spanish, knows that to really study a culture, you have to know the language, so he quickly enrolled in Professor Amy Dooling’s “Intensive Elementary Chinese” course. He is now taking “Intensive Intermediate Chinese I” with Professor Tek-wah King.

“Professors Dooling and King have really helped me build a foundation for the future,” Dorlea says. He adds that King’s course has been particularly interesting, as he breaks down each character to teach students their history and composition.

“He takes learning Chinese to another level by helping us understand how different parts contribute to the entire meaning of the word or character we are studying,” Dorlea says. “It brings you closer to the language and makes studying more intimate and worthwhile.”

King and Dooling have been equally impressed with their student. King describes Dorlea as “innately driven,” with “an open and creative mindset, robust energy level and leadership potential.”

“Nicolae is among the brightest, most globally aware, and inter-culturally sensitive students I’ve taught at Connecticut College,” adds Dooling. “He combines intelligence with a genuine curiosity and worldliness; he strives to make connections between the different areas of his learning and, always, to clarify the relevance of what he studies to his own life and experience.”

This year, Dorlea was selected as Chinese Language Fellow and charged with organizing co-curricular and extracurricular events. The position is typically awarded to seniors or native speakers, but Dorlea “has emerged as a stellar student and campus leader, and serves as effective bridge between different student groups,” says Dooling.

Dorlea set the tone for the year within the first two weeks of classes, King says, when he brought to campus a local Tai Chi instructor specializing in Hung Ga Kuen, a southern Chinese martial arts style.

Such opportunities for engagement are important for students, says Dorlea, who was particular inspired by one such event last year. Wang Zong Ying, president of the Ningbo Road Corporation and the only female on China Business Magazine’s list of top 10 managers in China, came to campus for a dinner discussion with students.  

“I had a very involved conversation with her,” Dorlea says. “She told me there is no way to fulfill my passion for Chinese business and politics without living in China. That night I knew traveling to China was a must.”

Dorlea will be in China with the Fulbright-Hays program through August. It won’t be the first time he has traveled abroad since arriving at Connecticut College. He was awarded the College’s Margaret King Moore '54 and Thomas R. Moore Yale '54 Endowed Travel Fellowship at the end of last year and spent the summer in France conducting interview-based research about the relationship between French music and society.

Dorlea says he has been inspired by the relationships he has built at Connecticut College and the support of the community. “Everyone is held to a really high standard, and everyone is an inspired activist,” he said of his fellow students. “There’s a certain momentum you feed off of. It’s a family here, and people really support you.”

December 11, 2014