I started out my day dreading enduring four and a half hours of class with a scratchy throat and runny nose, but ended it pouring over last week’s test to consume as much corrected grammar as my reinvigorated mind could handle.
Wednesday will mark eight weeks since I stepped out of an Air Canada flight and into China’s immigration line. Peking airport’s inadequate air conditioning and mob of travelers hadn’t daunted me, and neither did my failure of a speaking placement test three days later. Like my very first day of Chinese class almost a year ago, I came to Beijing prepared to face an insanely challenging and even more incredibly rewarding experience. This summer, I got plenty of both.
I won’t lie; there were definitely days I wanted to quit. Nights of memorizing 50+ vocabulary words, hours of class stuffing my brain full of new grammar structures, and returned homework covered in red pen were, at times, more intense than I thought I had signed up for. With new information every day and little time to review, it was difficult to tell if any real progress was being made. Weekend trips, frequent calls home, and a steady diet of milk tea helped me from feeling completely burnt out. Still, many days I feared information was going in one ear and out the other.
But today was my end-of-term oral proficiency interview. “Tell me about yourself,” one of my head teachers told me. Then I spent fifteen solid minutes talking about my family, my best friend, my university, Texas culture, and even American and Chinese relations. More than once I had to restart a sentence to get the grammar right and a handful of times struggled to remember the most sophisticated vocabulary. But by the end of the interview, I sat, flabbergasted, wondering where all of those words had come from.
How had I gone from barely being able to nervously manage a “nice to meet you” to giving an impromptu introduction of myself and my deepest interests in CHINESE? Every day of class had seemed to be comprised of more embarrassing misunderstandings and halting, stuttered answered.
Yet today I can use my new skills to tell you that I think America and China struggle to achieve a stable relationship because both possess a well-earned pride in their accomplishments and unyielding allegiance to their values. Eight weeks of studying in Beijing has provided me with a foundation that fuels my passion for learning this language. While there are certainly areas that I still and probably always will struggle in, the same is true for any subject. Those weaknesses only drive my eagerness to learn more, and fuel my confidence in one day achieving fluency in this once foreign language.
Just tonight, two of my classmates and I watched a WayV music video interview of two Chinese artists and ended up synchronously squealing and hugging at the realization that we understood entire paragraphs worth of information. This past weekend, a friend and I visited a local mall’s bookstore. We spent over an hour perusing the children’s section, testing our reading comprehension skills on everything from picture books to glossaries of dinosaurs. Our final purchases included ambitious 200-page chapter books. We promised each other and ourselves that we would learn the words we didn’t already know (the majority) in order to build on our vocabulary while simultaneously enjoying original Chinese texts.
After two months of hours of classes and studying every day, I had expected to feel burnt out. Truthfully, I’m looking forward to the two homework-less weeks I’ll have between the end of CET and the start of the school year at UT Austin. But I’ll also be splitting that time between spending time with my family and beginning the new challenge of reading books loaded with more knowledge of this amazing language.