Standout Sophomore: Meghan Murphy

Meghan Murphy looks forward to Taiwan.
Photo courtesy of Anh Ta

This week, we sat down with sophomore Meghan Murphy, the 2016 recipient of the U.S. Department of State Critical Language Scholarship (CLS). This scholarship program provides undergraduate and graduate students with a unique opportunity for overseas language training and cultural immersion. With CLS, students are allowed the opportunity to learn a critical language that is otherwise not typically studied in school, such as Mandarin Chinese, Urdu and Swahili to name a few. This summer, Murphy will spend eight weeks in Taiwan, taking an intensive Chinese language program and living with a host family.

“If you look at the wall at the staircase in the Hurvis Center, everyone from Lawrence who has got[ten] this scholarship has been a Megan, and I am now the third one,” Murphy shared her observation of previous years’ recipients. Just a few weeks before departure, she was excited but also anxious about what Taiwan has to offer.

“It is really exciting because I have been to China before, but never Taiwan,” she shared. “For one thing, they only use traditional characters in Taiwan, and that is going to be interesting. Also, I have never been to China or Taiwan in the summer, so the heat and humidity will be new.”

However, the intensity of the program is her biggest concern. In addition to 20 hours of classroom time, participants are expected to spend several hours each day doing homework outside of the classroom, as well as time with their host families exploring Taiwan and its culture. As a true Lawrentian with diverse academic interests, Murphy recognized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity for her. She said, “It will be a lot of work, but it’ll be good.”

Also, in a true Lawrentian fashion, her words reflected the unavoidable end-of-Spring-Term fatigue, “I’m excited to go, but I am also pretty tired from classes and everything.”

It has been a hectic year for the double-degree sophomore—balancing classes for her violin performance and religious studies majors, zipping across five Chinese cities in three weeks of winter break as a participant of the Sustainable China trip and managing her other commitments. Murphy had hoped for a break this summer to wind down, but the CLS Program was too good to pass up.

“I really want to do this in the first place because of the Chinese language learning,” said Murphy. “I feel that I have already had the opportunity to travel and explore, and now I’m getting to the point to really actually learn a lot of Chinese. Eventually in the future if I want to work, get an internship or live in China, I need better Chinese.”

Talking with Murphy, it was easy to see that she was truly driven to do her best in everything she took up. Murphy attributed this to her background as a home-schooled kid, being able to go off and fully explore lesser-traveled paths, including getting a head start in Chinese.

“I started taking Chinese freshman year of high school at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,” she shared. “I took four years of college-level Chinese and then a gap year before Lawrence to study Chinese in Beijing. Also, there was a Chinese school near our house and my mother and I just decided to check it out. [Chinese] has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.”

Having mastered the language as well as immersed herself in Chinese culture, Murphy now truly appreciates the diversity of China and Chinese culture that goes beyond the country’s borders. “As some parts can be deserts and others have rainforest, there is incredible cultural diversity and so many different dialects,” said Murphy. Having experienced some of this vast diversity, she is even more motivated to travel and experience more, especially Taiwan which she stated is “a completely different region.”

Despite being the only recipient of the scholarship from Lawrence this year, Murphy is not alone in her adventures in Taiwan. Fellow Lawrentians, sophomore Dean Chen and senior Sofie Yang, will also be in Taiwan to spend time with their respective families. As such, Murphy is looking forward to meeting up with both students when she has some free time. Having already drawn up her Taiwan to-do list, Murphy shared with us a “must” when one visits Taiwan: the night markets.

“Taiwan is known for night markets with all kinds of snacks and street food,” she shared. “Tainan, the city where I am placed, is especially known for these things, so I can’t wait to try all of these.”

She also came to realize the abundance of seafood in Taiwanese cuisine. “As someone from Wisconsin, I am a little hesitant about the seafood, but I am down to try things,” she reflected.

It will be no doubt a hectic eight weeks filled with unexpected things for Murphy. Nevertheless, with such a fearless mindset, she is well-prepared for an amazing summer.