“Why do you study Chinese? What do you want to do with it?” These are two of my most frequently asked questions when I talk about my college curriculum. To provide a little background, I am currently a sophomore studying Mathematics and Secondary Education Teacher Certification with a minor in Chinese Studies. This has not always been my education program, though. Last year I was majoring in Political Science and Pre-Business, and I was on the Pre-Law track. Despite completely changing my majors from socially to analytically focused, I have kept Chinese. Apart from being an elegant and beautiful language, Chinese provides me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a culture completely different from my own.
My motivation to begin learning Chinese was different from most people’s. I started studying Chinese back in 2009 because I wanted to better understand my mom’s culture and background. My mom was born in Singapore to my grandparents who were both natives of mainland China, but she moved out of the country when she was in her early 20s. My mom traveled all over the world during her life, but when I was younger the stories I heard from her were mainly about her time in Singapore. My mom also cooked a lot of Singaporean dishes, and each time she would make one, she would tell us the story behind the dish. These stories piqued my interest, but I never really learned much about the Chinese culture outside of these stories. My dad wanted me to grow up as an American boy who would fit in with my peers at school, and my mom thought Chinese was too difficult of a language to learn, so she never taught us how to speak, read, or write Chinese. The closest I got to the culture during my childhood was the stories my mom would tell me, the celebration of some of the Chinese holidays (such as Chinese New Year), and the various words my mom would say when I was in trouble. Despite this, my mom always taught us to be proud of our Chinese heritage.
I was lucky enough to have a Chinese program offered at my high school, and therefore I was able to start studying at the age of fourteen rather than at the age of eighteen like many other college students. My high school offered four years of Chinese study, and I took full advantage during my time there. I took every chance I could get to study Chinese, both in and out of the classroom, and I even spent some of my free periods in my Chinese teacher’s classroom during my junior and senior years. In addition to this, I restarted the Chinese Club in my high school and had the opportunity to see the Chinese President Xi Jinping in person! I wanted as much interaction with the Chinese language and culture as possible.
My senior year of high school, I was selected, along with one other Chinese IV student, to be a student ambassador for the Mayor’s Muscatine-China Initiatives committee. Part of my role as an ambassador on this committee was to travel to China during Spring Break of 2013 for one week. This was my chance to experience the country first-hand and use my Chinese language skills outside the classroom.