Tenth Grader Receives Scholarship to Study in China

Levi S. Watkins (right) and his mom, Mrs. Laquansay Watkins pose for a photograph after he placed second in the Jiangsu Cup Chinese Speech Contest sponsored by the Confucius Institute of Atlanta at Emory University. Photo by Mr. Dustin Watkins.

By Justin K. Thomas

Nov. 20, 2017

For some adults, learning a second language can be quite tricky. But, Levi S. Watkins, a tenth-grader at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia, took that difficulty and turned it upon its head and defied the odds by receiving a scholarship to study-abroad in the People’s Republic of China after taking second-place in the Jiangsu Cup Speech Contest on Nov. 4.

The scholarship and contest are sponsored by the Confucius Institute of Atlanta at Emory University.

He will spend four weeks of the 2018 summer academic semester studying the language and its unique culture in a more in-depth fashion at various universities in and around the Jiangsu Province.

Watkins, who has studied Chinese for the last three years and speaks at a Level III, said that the event was quite the test of his linguistic abilities, but pulled himself through.

“There is a formulaic nature to a speech competition,” said Watkins. “You go up before a crowd and simply speak what you have been practicing, and only hope that it was good enough to win. The greatest difficulties lie in watching others speak before you. Hearing a mispronunciation here and there makes you want re-check yourself. But overall, I felt sufficiently prepared.”

Watkins was introduced to the Chinese language and culture while attending Baldwin Arts and Academics Magnet Academy in Montgomery, Alabama. He said that he was reluctant to try a modem of communication that has no clear methods of identification but was up to the challenge of learning.

“My earliest exposure to the language was a mere glimpse of it on a whiteboard,” Watkins said. “It was part of a program my middle school, hosted. But like anyone who’d never experienced Chinese, I felt it was beyond my comprehension. Although I did not completely understand the language, there was a part of me that wanted to explore and ‘conquer’ it like any other difficult task I’ve encountered.”

According to the University of Denver, learning a foreign language, especially at a young age, has proven benefits for the brain. Multilingualism helps to improve memorization and multi-tasking abilities. Also, studies show that learning a second or third language helps to prevent the early-onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Watkins said that he is excited to travel to Jiangsu Province to study, but knows that his opportunity to learn will be different than the classrooms here in the United States.

“I anticipate that studying abroad will in many ways, be a drastically different matter in and of itself,” he said. “Currently, I don’t know how to feel because this is a really unique chance. If anything, I am anxious about it, but I anticipate it will be a memorable experience for me where I can learn a lot more about the Chinese people and their daily lives. By going to China, I hope to get a more local register of the language compared to how it is taught in the [American] textbooks.”

For Dustin and Laquansay Watkins, Levi’s parents, this moment in their son’s life only comes once in a lifetime and with the help of God. Mrs. Watkins said that they are incredibly proud of his accomplishment and know that his hard work and determination will always pay off.

“I was very nervous at the beginning of the competition because visiting China has been a dream of Levi’s for some time,” she said. “But God, through prayer, brought me peace. And then it happened. His name was called as one of the recipients of the scholarship. We are the proudest parents in the world. It is such an amazing feeling to watch your children achieve goals, be given accolades and to see their dreams fulfilled.”

As to his future, Watkins said that learning Chinese will help him succeed in whatever endeavor he pursues.

“It would’ve been easy for me to learn French or German,” he said. “But learning Chinese helped me overcome my fears, and that is what matters most.”