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Chinese-Canadian says he was not allowed to study Mandarin at NTU as he was of Chinese descent

“I tried to [appeal] it with the course coordinator but she just said that since my family was Chinese I would have an advantage and therefore I could not take it,” said Derek Leung

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Singapore—Apparently there’s such a thing as being too Chinese to study Chinese. One student said that being of Chinese descent disqualified him from studying Mandarin at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), despite the fact that he had never actually studied Chinese in the past.

Derek Leung, who is now 26 years old and a mechanical engineer, took to the increasingly popular (and frankly, hilarious) Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits to post about an experience he had as an exchange student from Canada at NTU sometime ago.

He applied to study Mandarin at NTU in 2015, and was promptly rejected.  He wrote, “As a CBC (Canadian-Born-Chinese) that can’t speak Chinese, trying to learn is a real struggle. In a uni exchange semester in Singapore, I tried taking a Mandarin Course. This was the university’s response.”

He posted a screenshot of an email from the university, which read:

Dear LEUNG DEREK KIN,

The school has reviewed your request to read the following course and the status as follows:

Course: LC9001

Course Description: CHINESE LANGUAGE LEVEL 1

Status: Rejected

Reason: no eligible to register LC9001as this student race is Chinese

Later on he edited the post to say: “For those asking, this was a few years ago but I did try to appeal with the course coordinator. I still got rejected lol.”

Mr Leung’s post, which was put up on Tuesday (Jan 14) evidently resonated with many of the members of the group, as over 1,800 have commented and 10,000 people have reacted to it.

Growing up in Canada, Mr Leung never got the chance to study Mandarin, and when he came to Singapore on a student exchange programme, he thought he finally had the opportunity.

But the registrar gods at NTU had other ideas, apparently.

He said, “I tried to [appeal] it with the course coordinator but she just said that since my family was Chinese I would have an advantage and therefore I could not take it.”

Mr Leung then chose a business management elective in the place of the Chinese language course.

He told Coconuts Singapore, “I had not learned Chinese all my life so I thought living in a country where people spoke Chinese would be a good opportunity.”

When he asked, Mr Leung was told by the university that his family background made it unfair for him to study Mandarin.

One of the people commenting on Mr Leung’s post,said that he had the opposite experience. Of Korean descent, he was given permission by NTU to study the Korean language, although at the more advanced levels of five and six. He wondered if university policies have since changed.

Other people of Chinese ancestry commented that the same thing happened to them in universities in Australia and Malaysia.

Mr Leung told Coconuts that he did not learn Chinese during his time in Singapore, but he was able to help his Singaporean classmates with their English. “My main interaction with local students was helping my roommate or project team members with English reports. For the most part they were fine … I noticed some Singlish spilling into their grammar.”

Finding that the post went viral was a surprise to Mr Leung, who had posted it for a laugh. “I didn’t realize that this would get so much attention. I posted it for a funny joke,” he told Coconuts. -/TISG

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