A few weeks before freshman year of high school, I stood and stared wide eyed in front of the fortress that is Lincoln. I was there on a mission. Today, I would choose the language I’d take for the next four years.
The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”
About an hour prior, my mom told me, “You need to take Spanish! You could do so much with it.” A couple days before that, multitudes of people advised me that I would regret taking anything other than Spanish.
There’s nothing wrong with Spanish, but I didn’t have a hunger for it. It didn’t seem appetizing. At first glance, I knew what I wanted. I wanted Chinese, and it was mine the moment I laid eyes on it.
I excelled in Chinese class. I passed every test with flying colors. I remembered Chinese characters like they were the names of my best friends. I could converse. Chinese attached itself to every part of my life. I translated anything I could get my hands on, like magazines and menus. It even infiltrated my dreams. I dreamt of radicals and the past life of every character. The only thing I had to do now was visit China.
China was like a far off wish, though. Until it wasn’t. A trip to China was in our school’s future. My mom couldn’t pay for a trip, though. She can’t work because of her disabilities, and I have three other siblings as well as a nephew all in one house. But I didn’t let that dissuade me, because China was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let slip away. I started a GoFundMe page, did other fundraisers, and asked for personal donations until I finally reached the whopping total of $5,500. That money covered a passport, visa, plane ticket, and a 9-day guided educational tour as well as extra spending money.
As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.
Everywhere I looked there were people who spoke the language I loved, Mandarin, so I did what any rational person would do. I made conversation. I talked to moms, kids, seniors, middle schoolers, high schoolers, store clerks, food vendors, and grocery attendants. The list could go on.
Being able to talk with people who had a completely different background than I did astounded me. Some of us had nothing in common but this wonderful language. I shared stories and personal views with so many people I didn’t know, and in return I got innumerable ones from them. The Chinese gave me a piece of their culture and accepted me with open arms. There were so many things in the world that I had never experienced, but these people had. Their stories would be the ones I’d share with my children and grandchildren.
This trip helped me realized how I’m just one person--one small speck--in this world. There is so much more to learn and experience. My trip to China is the reason I want to teach English abroad. The connections I made were because I was able to communicate. Having a second or third language at your disposal makes you an asset. Whole new cultures are open to you. I want kids and adults to be able to make lifelong connections just as I did when I was in China.
“Junzi zhi xin bù sheng qí xiao, ér qìliàng hángài yish.” (Géyán lián bì) is a Chinese proverb that reminds us that we should not act for our own selfish desires, but rather try to serve the greater good.