For Love of the Chinese Language

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by KATHERINE SEITER
The US-China Strong Foundation's mission is to increase the number of Americans studying Mandarin and studying abroad in China.

This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.

Literature and art have always resonated deeply within me; my parents have pictures of me as a toddler dressed as an artist surrounded by books. However, I had no idea that I would ever study Chinese, much less go to China. It all began in third grade, after transferring to a school where Chinese language study was required. At first, I was intimidated by the loud teacher and the seemingly complicated language, but after my teacher wrote the beautiful characters on the whiteboard, I fell in love. Chinese was intriguing, artistic, and special; writing characters became a form of art for me. Other students complained about the class and found little value in studying Chinese, but I found it relaxing to practice the characters, even if just rewriting the Chinese dialogues from my textbooks.

As I continued my studies, I explored the art, music, and culture of China and other East Asian countries through the Internet. I became interested in Japanese animation, as well as South Korean music, celebrities, and pop culture. Upon entering Hopkins School in seventh grade, I began studying the language more formally. It was the first time I met other students who shared my interest and dedication to the study of Chinese. I was given the opportunity to study abroad in 2016, when Hopkins School allowed its youngest students to go to China. Although I felt nervous about visiting a foreign country on my own, the trip was transformative for me as a student and a traveler. I visited Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Hong Kong. Experiencing Chinese culture firsthand and attending classes in a Chinese school enabled me to learn in a way that cannot be taught from a textbook. We saw the Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China, and the terracotta warriors; we ate local food and practiced Tai Chi. Our language skills were put to the test when we visited our host students and purchased figurines and clothing in the marketplace. Before long, I realized that I was translating less in my head before speaking because I was learning how to think in Chinese.

That trip was my first exposure to another continent and a new culture. I will always treasure the experience. Hopkins School will return to China in March 2018, and the Hopkins delegation will work with our sister school, Yali-Peicui. I can hardly wait for the trip. This time I will bring both of my brothers, and I hope that they, along with the other students, will be as amazed as I was by China, and perhaps they too will be inspired to study Chinese. I realize that I have only scratched the surface of understanding the language, culture, and history of China, and I am incredibly excited to learn more. I hope that one day I can become fluent enough to teach the Chinese language, and inspire other young people to find joy in studying Chinese.

Katherine Seiter is a high school student from Woodbridge, CT, and is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.