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Carrie Buck, a double major in Chinese and Spanish, spent the spring of 2013 at the prestigious National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA) in Beijing.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Commencement 2014 profile: Carrie Buck
May 12, 2014Tweet
Carrie Buck did not speak a word of Chinese when she entered Binghamton University. She will leave Binghamton as one of the world’s top students in Chinese language proficiency.
“I tell people I’ve only studied Chinese for two and a half years and they are amazed,” said the 22-year-old from Skaneateles, N.Y. “I think the fact that I sing helps me understand how to speak the language and sound like a native.”
Buck said she has always had “a knack” for languages and took Spanish and French in high school.
“I felt like I wanted a greater challenge with language and Chinese popped into my head,” she said.
With a Chinese program bolstered by the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera, Buck decided to attend Binghamton University and double-major in Chinese Studies and Spanish. She took Chinese 101 as a freshman.
“My teachers saw my potential when I didn’t even see it,” she said. “They pushed me to do the Chinese Bridge Speaking Competition. That got me into learning about the culture and spurred everything else.”
The Chinese Bridge Competition is a worldwide Chinese language proficiency contest sponsored by the Hanban (the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language) and requires contestants to give a speech and perform a talent. The east region consists of 10 states and features schools such as Columbia and Princeton.
Buck won the preliminary round at Alfred University and then took second in the junior division at Pace University as a freshman. She expanded her repertoire by taking a Singing Chinese course as a sophomore and won the junior level. This earned Buck a chance to study at the internationally acclaimed National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA) in Beijing, where she spent the spring and summer of 2013.
“Room after room, there is someone practicing, someone dancing or someone doing Beijing Opera acrobatics,” she said. “These students have been studying there since they were 10. It was amazing to be in their presence. You want to work to be able to be as good as they are.”
Buck was one of the only U.S. students studying at NACTA, so she was able to help teach English classes that Chinese students are required to take. This brought her closer to her generally younger colleagues.
“There are 19-year-olds great at Beijing Opera, but they could barely say: ‘Hello, my name is …’” Buck said. “That forces you to use your Chinese more to help them with English. So they want to learn from you – and you’ve formed a friendship.”
Buck was also able to explore Beijing – a city that soon became one of her favorites.
“There was a lot of freedom to do other things because my coursework was a lot of one-on-one instruction,” she said. “There is so much history and culture (in Beijing). People are friendly when you try to speak their language. Every part of Beijing has its own feel. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like you are in the same city.”
While at NACTA, Buck worked with a Chinese Opera Movement teacher to develop the use of a silk sleeve while singing. The sleeve goes behind Buck’s shoulders on a bar. When she moves her arms while singing, the effect is like water flowing from the arms.
Buck made a video that earned international attention and then performed the Beijing Opera piece at the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera’s touring show at Binghamton University in the fall of 2013. It was the first time that a U.S. student performed with the touring group.
“It went well,” said Buck, who admitted to having some jitters. “I was proud that there was no forgetting the lyrics and movements.”
Buck repeated the routine in late March at the regional final of the Chinese Bridge Competition. As the first-place winner in the senior category, Buck advances to the international competition in July in the Hunan Province. The first two weeks feature foreign students showcasing their language and culture mastery to get to the Top 30. The competition is then televised in front of a live audience. The winner receives a scholarship to study anywhere in China.
Buck’s success is no surprise to Zu-Yan Chen, professor of Asian and Asian American Studies and director of the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University.
“Carrie is undoubtedly one of the most talented and motivated students I have come across in my 27 years of teaching at Binghamton University,” Chen said. “Anyone who has seen her intensity of dedication repeating a single movement dozens of times in a mirrored practice room according to her professor’s instructions would not be surprised about her highly acclaimed academic and artistic achievements.”
Buck, who was a member of Harpur Chorale and formed the Harpur Vocal Jazz as a sophomore, even has something in common with Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger: They are both from Skaneateles. They met when Stenger visited NAFTA during a trip of Asia in the spring of 2013.
“He said: ‘We’re halfway around the world and we come from the same hometown,’” Buck recalled. “It’s always nice to meet with him because there is a unique, personal connection there. It’s not just about the business of career goals. We can talk about Skaneateles.”
After Commencement, Buck is considering doing graduate work in interpretation at the University of Grenada. She said she hopes to work in simultaneous interpretation.
Speaking a foreign language and studying a foreign culture is important in today’s world, Buck stressed.
“I grew up in an area that was 99 percent white,” she said. “I didn’t know any other diverse populations. The Chinese culture is so different from our own when you look at it with open eyes. It helps you understand the people of that culture, why they do things the way they do and how they tick. Part of understanding that is speaking their language. I want to be that person who speaks your language and not the one who says: ‘I speak English only and you should speak English to me.’”