The 2025 Penn-STARTALK Chinese Program: Experiential Learning at China Folk House

The 2025 Penn-STARTALK Chinese Program: Experiential Learning at China Folk House, developed by the University of Pennsylvania, invites 20 students in grades 9-12 for a dynamic 3-week immersive session from July 7 to July 26, 2025. This innovative program combines rigorous Chinese language instruction at the esteemed Penn campus with a distinctive “China Folk House Retreat.” The China Folk House would be inundated by the reservoir of the new Wunonglong hydropower dam project in China but was magically saved and has been rebuilt through a total of 21,871 volunteer hours in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. This retreat focuses on immersive, sustainable living practices and cultural engagement, allowing participants to explore traditional Chinese agriculture, arts, and folkways.

In the 2025 Penn-STARTALK Chinese Program, students will not only learn Mandarin through innovative pedagogies but will also gain invaluable insights into the socio-cultural dynamics of rural China, mirroring the ethos of China Folk House. They will experience firsthand the intersection of cultural preservation and modern educational practices, engaging with topics such as eco-sustainable living, historical ethnography, and artisanal crafts. This program aims to cultivate not just language proficiency but also intercultural competence and a deeper appreciation for the nuances that characterize China’s rich cultural landscape. Amidst growing global complexities, the program nurtures grassroots connections, celebrates diverse Chinese cultural, religious, and ethnic narratives, and honors the profound heritage of rural life, offering a rich, hands-on educational experience against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing world.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Chinese Language Program (CLP) exemplifies a longstanding dedication to advancing language education for grades 9-16. With eight STARTALK grants from 2007 to 2014, the program has significantly impacted language teaching, instructing nearly two hundred high school students and fourteen K-12 teachers in both Chinese language and pedagogy. Continuing its legacy, from 2017 to 2019, the CLP ran four STARTALK-Penn Chinese Teacher Advancement Programs, where 15 K-16 Chinese language teachers received STARTALK-endorsed training. This training emphasized the fusion of modern pedagogical methods and technology with international content. Concurrently, since 2019, the Chinese Folk House has enriched nearly 350 high school students through summer camps focused on cultural preservation and hands-on learning, revitalizing its historic infrastructure and surroundings.

The proposed STARTALK program is designed to expand enrollment in critical language studies, with a specific focus on Chinese, responding to national security needs for linguistic and cultural proficiency. We are dedicated to nurturing a new generation of students who are not only linguistically prepared but also culturally competent, equipping them with the skills necessary for effective global citizenship and careers in various sectors, including government.

Our strategy encompasses hiring and developing highly skilled educators who are adept in modern pedagogical practices and can deliver effective instruction in Chinese in both K-12 and higher education. Moreover, we commit to creating and sharing innovative teaching materials and curricula, thus contributing to a national pool of resources that enhance critical language education. This initiative is aligned with STARTALK’s objectives to bolster the number of students and teachers in the field of critical languages and to strengthen the workforce to meet the country’s national security and economic needs. Through our program, participants will engage in an immersive learning environment that leverages the rich cultural resources of the China Folk House, fostering an understanding of language that is deeply intertwined with cultural experiences and real-world applications.