- Posted March 17, 2014 by
Washington, District of Columbia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Why study abroad? Ask Michelle Obama
Wanderlust and Challenge
After becoming fluent in Spanish and French in high school, I decided to challenge myself with one of the most complex languages--Mandarin. My family relative enticed me to the mystique behind Chinese characters and history through his postcards sent from work in Shanghai. Upon high school graduation, I promised myself I would travel to the Middle Kingdom to learn Chinese.
After two years of arduously studying Mandarin at American University, I earned the opportunity to study at Peking University as a National Security Education Scholar in 2011-2012. Considered the Harvard of Chinese universities--Peking University allowed me to study Chinese Political Reforms and intensive Mandarin. As I emphasized US-China relations within my international relations major, I appreciated the chance to finally learn Chinese professors and classmates' perspective on US-China ties.
My outstandingly supportive program staff complemented my academic course by arranging countless trips to Chinese cultural sites. Yet, as much as I enjoyed exploring the rich history behind the Forbidden City walls or capturing the endless horizon from atop the Great Wall of China, I loved engaging with Chinese residents wherever I traveled.
I stayed busy away from the classroom by teaching part-time English and starring in a Chinese television dating show. As a teacher, I was astonished to discover my students' ability to speak fluent English at age 11 and engage in extracurricular activities. This motivated me to work even harder in school and ponder how I could encourage Mandarin study to American children in school. Meanwhile, I enjoyed demonstrating my Mandarin proficiency as the only American on the 非常完美 (Absolutely Perfect) show, and discovering fundamental expectations behind Chinese relationships.
Outside the classroom, I occasionally took spontaneous travels around the country to explore China's natural sights and more importantly discover different social/religious groups. Whether riding camels through the deserts of Inner Mongolia, climbing the treacherous Flower Mountain in Shaanxi province, or witnessing the pulchritude of Harbin's colorful Ice Sculpture Festival, I discovered a multitude of perspectives toward US citizens.
Above all, spending the whole academic year with a homestay family completed my journey. Reminding me of the importance of family, I relished celebrating Chinese New Year with my extended family members over hotpot dinner. Furthermore, watching military soap operas with my father exposed me to China's interpretation of national history. Regardless of all these memories, my homestay family greatly helped me become a more fluent Mandarin speaker, and deepen my intrigue toward China as well as East Asia.
Therefore, in addition to deepening my passion for learning foreign languages, my pilgrimage to China has enlightened me as to my taste for wanderlust. From a larger perspective, studying in China has helped me realize my commitment to improving US-China relations not only on a political level but on a social level. By no means am I fluent enough to consider myself a master of Mandarin or 中国通 (expert in Chinese affairs). But, the beauty lies in the journey and challenge to one day realize this dream.