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Zihan Guo (class of 2020) is ntly pursuing an M.A in East Asian Languages at the University of Pennsylvania.

Zihan Guo '20

I had not imagined that I would be a Comp Lit major until somehow I went to the program director’s office in the second semester of my sophomore year. I still remember the time when she looked over my SPIRE page and said that I seemed so fitting for a Comp Lit major—my passion for languages and literature, and my identity as an international student from China.

What I have appreciated most about majoring in Comp Lit is the inclusiveness and profundity it bestows. It is where all whims and fancies are appreciated, and inclinations and dispositions embraced. While continuing my penchant for classical Chinese poetry and philosophy, I was also exposed to western literary traditions and theories. While learning different languages and conversing clumsily in them, I also pondered on issues of translation and translatability. These all seem at first glance too diffuse to display tangible efficacy, yet they all somehow resonate with my current graduate study in East Asian Languages and Civilization at Penn.

Being a Comp Lit major inspires alternative ways of perceiving words and worlds. I am reading ancient Chinese hymns that I can analyze as performative pieces, which reminds me of the Junior Writing class at UMass where we had to do a “performative writing” that everyone thought odd at first. I am discussing with other students canons across Eastern and Western traditions, finding parallels in them about semiotics that were not immediately intelligible when I first learned about them in the Literary Criticism class. Experiences in Translation and Interpreting Studies have encouraged me to delve deeper into linguistic nuances and the particular aura of my native language that I have taken for granted in the past. The practical strategies I acquired also help me with translating texts that are sometimes deemed quaint and quirky. The value of a Comp Lit curriculum can pop up at any moment, as randomly as how I ended up being a Comp Lit major. Those moments have echoes so subtle yet profound that I am sure will always linger over me.