The youngest bird has left the nest. That bird, figuratively, being me. I was thousands of miles away from my home, but obtained an unforgettable experience. This summer, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern with Hutong School in Shanghai as a Marketing Intern.
Growing up, I had always thought of myself as a (moderate) expert on Chinese language and culture. After all, in Texas, USA there were not many others who could contend with my numerous experiences of handmade dumplings and late night Mahjong games. All I needed were rudimentary Chinese words and a mix of Chinglish (Chinese-English) to be considered an “expert” in Chinese.
When I landed in China, I immediately felt like a fish out of water. Despite having similar features as those around me, the differences were prominent. English, not Chinese was my native tongue. Whenever I started to converse with others around me, their first question was: 你是外国人吗? (Are you a foreigner?). Even my hard-practiced Chinese could not mask my noticeable ABC (American Born Chinese) accent.
It was like being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole—almost integrated but not quite. At restaurants, pictures and English subtitles drew my eyes first, rather than the Chinese characters. On the subway station, although I could understand the Chinese announcements, I relied on the English translation that came after to confirm my understanding. Each time I spoke Chinese was another step towards improvement—re-familiarizing myself with the four tones, the backwards (to me) grammar, and forcing myself not to take the easy way out by throwing English into my conversations.
Luckily, during my internship and through my Chinese classes, I was able to improve my Chinese (although my accent was still rather prominent). Talking to local shop owners, studying Chinese after work, and immersing myself in the language kick-started my motivation to begin truly learning Chinese.
Being surrounded by Hutong Students, who were passionate and driven about learning Chinese, has shown me that I shouldn’t take my ancestry for granted, but rather take advantage of it. I can use my foundation in Chinese to fully master the world’s most difficult language. Despite being from a Chinese background, my language skills lacked immensely. Instead of fulfilling my possible potential for flawless Chinese, I have been wasting it. Now I strive for fluency in Chinese, rather than scraping by with my hybrid Chinglish. Coming to China has immeasurably transformed my outlook on Chinese language and culture.
再见中国. I’ll be back soon!
Cheryl Li – marketing intern