Zachary N. Larsen, a recipient of the Boren Scholarship coordinated through the Kennedy Center, has been learning Mandarin Chinese since September 2012. It all started when he was awarded an Air Force ROTC scholarship to study Chinese at BYU, home to one of the top-ranked Chinese programs in the nation. Larsen later served a two-year mission for the Church, speaking Mandarin in Brisbane, Australia. “In addition to my normal missionary responsibilities,” he said, “I translated written documents, served as an interpreter, and served in a Chinese congregation of approximately seventy-five Chinese-speaking people from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia.”
When he returned from Australia in August 2015, Larsen continued studying Chinese at BYU. He had been a member of BYU’s Chinese Flagship Program, but his military commitment led him to leave the program because it included one year of extensive study abroad that would have hindered his service in the air force. After some searching, Larsen discovered another option. “I found that BYU’s Nanjing study abroad program is an excellent alternative that will allow me to complete one year’s worth of core Chinese classes related to my major in one semester,” Larsen explained. Not only will this route be academically condensed, but it will also be personally enriching.
Larsen will use the Boren Scholarship to study at Nanjing University, where he will have opportunities to improve his cultural literacy. “Nanjing University is one of the top universities in China,” he noted, certain that it will contribute toward his academic goals. The program also presents an outstanding networking opportunity. “By studying at Nanjing University,” he said, “I will establish friendships with some of China’s brightest minds.”
After Larsen graduates, he will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. “I have dreams of becoming a pilot in the air force,” he expressed. “However, my eventual plan is to become a regional affairs strategist with an emphasis on Chinese–American relationships.” He intends to use the U.S. Air Force’s Language Enabled Airman Program to continue developing both his language skills and his cultural understanding. Looking to the future, Larsen would like to engage in the Olmsted Scholars Program and to pursue a master’s degree in international relations with an emphasis in either Chinese language or Chinese political science.
Larsen has high hopes for the future. “Through proper cultural and political understanding and a strong diplomatic relationship,” he said, “I believe the United States and China can reestablish a relationship built upon trust and mutual understanding that can benefit the world.” Contributing to an improved relationship between China and the United States inspires his ambitions, and joining the ranks of a very small number of BYU students who have received the Boren Scholarship bodes well for Larsen and others who seek increased international understanding.
Larsen is a cadet major in the Air Force ROTC, Detachment 855, at Brigham Young University / Utah Valley University.