You should see the look on people’s faces when I tell them I took seven years of Chinese, studied abroad in China, and was a Chinese minor. Obviously that’s not what you expect to hear from someone who spends most of her time changing two kids’ dirty diapers and wiping spit-up off her shirt.
It’s not something I bring up a lot, because I am afraid someone might force me to try to speak Chinese. After seven years of not using the language, I’m afraid my level is right up there with Ni Hao Kai Lan – if not lower. Mostly I only divulge my studies if I am talking about travel with someone. It makes me feel pretty cool (something I am not) to say, “Oh, well, I’ve been to China, Thailand, Brazil, and Taiwan.”
(Strangely, I’ve never been to New England, although that will be remedied this summer! I’ve also never been farther West in the US than Montana, unless you count airports.)
So why did I take Chinese? It was simple: I was scared of confusion.
I went to a magnet school for government and international studies for high school, and we had to have a total of six years of language studies for graduation—at least four years of one language and at least two years of another. I started French in eighth grade, and that was my four-year language. I was worried if I picked another Latin-based language I would confuse the two.
That left me Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and sign language as choices. I probably would have picked Japanese, except the teacher was also the woman who taught Chinese and was from China herself. Supposedly her Japanese class consisted mostly of, “Now the Chinese created this and then the Japanese stole it!”
Although my Chinese teacher in high-school was a little bit of a nut job, she introduced the Chinese culture to me in a way I found fascinating. We visited Chinese grocery stores, sang children’s songs, made sushi, and learned characters with flourish. The lei I wore around my neck on graduation day was LaoShi’s contribution to making sure the whole school knew Chinese students were different and special.
Three years of high-school Chinese allowed me to skip … the first semester of college Chinese I. Yes, ONE semester. But in the next three-and-a-half years, I grew to love the crazy people in my class. I went to China for six weeks to study the language (and shop … and learn how to berate taxi drivers in Chinese).
No, I haven’t used it since I graduated. But I still feel like God put a love for all things China in my heart for a reason. Like many things in life, I will just wait and see how it works itself out.
So for now: zaijian, pengyoumen.
[Other possible answers to why I studied Chinese include: Lottie Moon, I really like Chinese take-out food, and I wanted to marry an Asian guy and have cute Asian babies.]
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