Written by Marcelle O’Halloran, (Student Correspondent) George Washington University
Middlebury C.V. Starr School in China: Hangzhou, Spring 2015
This past Friday, Lian Laoshi took our taolun class to a university about an hour away from Hangzhou to give a speech in front of a classroom of students. Although he assured us this wasn’t a test and that we shouldn’t worry, I was incredibly nervous. To be honest, all week I was dreading the arrival of Friday. I’m used to giving speeches and presentations in front of large crowds in the States, but I had never spoken Chinese to such a big audience of native speakers. What if they didn’t understand me? What if I forgot what I had prepared to say? I was about to step way outside of my comfort zone.
Lian Laoshi gave me two topics to discuss: the difference between celebrating holidays in China and the US, and if I were to settle down in China, where I would choose to live. I decided to talk about how our two countries celebrate the New Year since I’d had the opportunity to go home with my roommate to celebrate chunjie and felt I had a good understanding of how the Chinese guonian. In addition, I would include my desire to someday live in Shanghai, my favorite city in China (sorry Hangzhou!).
When we arrived at the school and entered the classroom, I made a beeline for an empty desk in the back next to one of my fellow classmates, but Lian Laoshi stopped me and put me in a seat in the second row, surrounded by Chinese students. My plan to avoid having to talk to people was foiled. At this point, I was starting to freak out. Although the audience wasn’t as big as I originally thought it would be, I was super intimidated. Since we had a few minutes before the speeches started, I struck up a conversation with the girl next to me, and we talked a bit about our college lives. When I expressed to her my concerns about being nervous, she looked me in the eyes and assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Her sincerity gave me the push I needed when it was my turn to stand up, heart pounding, and take my place at the podium.
Halfway through my speech, I realized something miraculous: I was actually enjoying myself. I was having a great time telling everyone about my chunjie experience, a week full of eating, watching TV, playing majiang, and more eating. I introduced our New Year’s Eve tradition of drinking champagne and kissing a stranger at midnight, finishing off my speech with a profession of love for Shanghai. When I returned to my seat, my new friend leaned over and whispered she thought I had done a great job – that was truly all the feedback I needed.
I was really impressed with all of my classmates and could see that our audience was very engaged. They really wanted to hear our thoughts about China and learn what our life in the US is like. I think that exchange of knowledge and opinions are the key to international relations. Mutual curiosity and understanding of one another’s cultures can greatly improve the relationship between countries. I am so glad that we were given this opportunity to talk in front of this class and make new friends, all of whom I will definitely continue to talk to via WeChat!