Coming into the Intensive Chinese Language program as an absolute beginner, the language pledge was extremely daunting and I had several concerns about how I would ask questions in class, get around the city, and make friends if I couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese. I knew I was about to start a very challenging four months of my life, but my excitement overshadowed my fears. I was excited to finally start learning Chinese, a lifelong goal of mine. Beyond just language acquisition, I wanted to explore my heritage and the culture of a part of my family I didn’t grow up with.
The first week of the language pledge was exciting. It was something new and all the CET students had the kind of energy that can only be found at the beginning of the semester and start of a new journey. The second and third weeks of the language pledge were really difficult for me. I was having a hard time adjusting to life in Beijing due to Internet and Wi-Fi limitations that made me feel isolated and frustrated. I was learning a lot in class and making many friends in the program, but still could barely communicate with other people and I was unable to verbally express myself.
To overcome these frustrations, I had to remind myself that I came to China specifically for the challenge of language and cultural immersion. I already learned so much in one month of studying Chinese, and I know the language pledge and intense studying will help me continue my rapid progress throughout the rest of the program. Luckily, after the fourth week we got a weeklong holiday for China’s National Day.
Months ago, I made plans to travel south to Fuzhou to meet and visit some of my family in my father’s hometown. On the 11hr train from Beijing to Fuzhou I practiced what I would say to my Auntie and cousins when I arrived. I was nervous that we wouldn’t understand each other and that I would accidentally disrespect them with my bad Chinese.
My Auntie and cousins took me in and showed me around Fuzhou as if we had known each other for much longer and as if they could really understand me. One five-year-old cousin called me “jiejie,” older sister, and another little cousin taught me new words and giggled at my pronunciation. My Auntie made sure I was never hungry and each time I thought a meal was finished she of course put more on my plate.
I was surprised how well I was able to communicate with my Auntie despite her not knowing any English and me having studied Chinese for just one month. I left with a feeling of great accomplishment that made me excited to return to classes in Beijing and continue the language pledge no matter how tough some days might be.
Being able to communicate so well and form life-long memories with family members I never thought I’d meet has truly been the best motivation and encouragement to push through the daily challenges of the language pledge and continue the intense Chinese language studies in Beijing.