Julia Chen: Bridging Generations and Languages

Posted December 12, 2023

At two years old, Julia Chen learned her first words in Chinese from her grandmother.  

“Speaking Mandarin became part of my identity, this cool little superpower,” she says.  

Julia will graduate from Georgia Tech in December with a bachelor’s degree in International Affairs and Modern Languages, with a focus in Chinese studies. This spring, she will study advanced Chinese on a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship at Tamkang University in Taiwan. 

As serendipity would have it, that’s the same place her grandmother studied English over 50 years ago, before emigrating to the U.S.  

Her family has been in the U.S. since her parents were children, so Julia says her experience of studying Chinese has been “very much from an American perspective.”  

“I feel like people think that I’m going ‘back’ to Taiwan, but I don’t have the same connection as someone who was born there or with family there would have,” she said. 

Studying Chinese abroad is a lifelong goal of Julia’s. She credits Associate Professor Paul Foster in the School of Modern Languages with encouraging her to pursue her Chinese studies and the Fulbright-Hays. 

“I’m very grateful to Dr. Foster for suggesting this opportunity,” she says. “I’ve studied Chinese for a long time and even translated for the U.S. State Department, but I would still not say I’m anywhere near fluent.” 

That fluency will be key to the future Chen is building for herself. In the fall, she plans to start work for international strategy consultancy EY-Parthenon, where she has interned.  

“My dream is to do work that helps ease U.S.-China relations and to aid the U.S. in its campaign to protect Taiwan,” she says. 

With future interests in attending law school and pursuing a career in international law concerning national security issues, she hasn’t yet pinned down exactly where the future will take her. Her experience in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs has taught her that’s not a bad thing. 

“Ivan Allen College students work just as hard, but our path might be less linear than our friends in STEM fields,” she says. “How do you get into government? You have to network, build some kind of foundation. You have to create your own pathway in.” 

And if that pathway begins in the same place her grandmother’s did so many years before, it has to be a good sign. 

“I think the most wonderful thing I’ve learned at Tech is that life isn’t linear,” she says. “I know that having many areas of interest isn’t something that’s going to impede me, that I don’t need to narrow them down to one thing.” 

One piece of advice she’d share with her fellow Yellow Jackets who haven’t yet crossed the stage? 

“I help a lot of my friends practice interviewing. I think Tech students work so hard, and their response to every challenge is to work harder. I really admire that, but interviews are just conversations.” 

And conversations, whether in English or Mandarin, are what Julia does best.

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Georgia Tech graduate Julia Chen, IAML 2023, and her grandmother.

Contact For More Information

Stephanie N. Kadel
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts