Darien Bryant: West End to East Asia

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

This article was taken with permission from Commodore Nation, the official publication of Vanderbilt athletics.You can read the original article by Chris Weinman and more articles in Commodore Nation here.

There may come a day when having an SEC football player spend nearly a month studying halfway across the world is not remarkable. But opportunities like the one enjoyed by sophomore defensive end Darien Bryant during his Maymester in China stand out in the 365-day-a-year world of major college football.

A native of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, Bryant knew before he came to Vanderbilt that he wanted the chance to experience Chinese business and culture. So when the opportunity did not present itself directly, he took matters into his own hands.

“I helped create this Maymester program, working with [Chinese Language Program Coordinator] Liu Xianmin,” Bryant said. “The ability to travel abroad to Asia was one of the reasons I came to vanderbilt, but when I got here this Maymester program did not exist.”

ASIA 236 was born. The course, titled “Inside China: Society, Business, and Culture in Beijing and Shanghai,” included topical seminars, language practicums and field trips centered around China’s capital city (Beijing) and its financial center (Shanghai).

The program, designed “to provide students with a unique insider’s introduction to China’s economy, society, and culture through classroom instruction and real-life interaction,” spent 24 days between Beijing and Shanghai and featured side trips to well-known cultural and historical sites like the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

The coursework required no previous background in Chinese, though Bryant would have been covered there. The rising redshirt-sophomore has created his own interdisciplinary major at Vanderbilt – Culutural Studies of East Asia – which he and advisor Brett Benson based around the two foreign languages he has studied at Vanderbilt.

“Learning both Japanese and Mandarin, most of the credits going toward my major are language credits, and language is a large part of culture,” Bryant said. “But there are also some business, management and economics classes involved, too.”

In China, Bryant spent some time every day attending seminars from Chinese and American scholars on diverse topics, including current Chinese society, politics, economy, environment, and US-China relations. He and his classmates also had the opportunity to discuss those issues with local college students.

Bryant greatly appreciated the chance he was afforded in going overseas, especially because of how rarely opportunities like his present themselves to college athletes.

“It was a great trip,” Bryant said. “But what made it even better was knowing that very few other people have the opportunity to do what I did. That made me cherish it even more.”

Coming back to Nashville for the beginning of June, Bryant does not expect to be a month behind his teammates in terms of the Commodores’ off-season workout schedule. How did he keep up from over 7,000 miles away?

“Same as my teammates that went home for May – by lifting and running,” Bryant said. “I was just a little bit farther from Nashville than those guys.”

Back on campus, Bryant is a member of defensive line coach Sean Spencer’s “Wild Dogs,” and is utilized mainly as a rush end on passing downs. After splitting his true freshman season of 2011 practicing at both defensive end and tight end, Bryant placed in nine games on defense last season and recorded a pair of tackes – including half a sack – aginst Presbyterian,.

As Bryant’s development on the field continues, so too does his development outside of the athletic complex, thanks in part to experiences like the Maymester he spent in China. Asked what he valued most about the trip, Bryant replied that it was the chance to “experience new ways of living and having my perspective on life broadened.”

While not everyone can study abroad during their time in college, Vanderbilt continues to open up new opportunities for its student-athlete population to experience cultures across the globe, making stories like that of football player Darien Bryant’s Maymester in China possible.

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