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.
When I was 10 years old, my family and I moved to Hong Kong for a year for my mother’s work. To my 4th grade self, this was a significant and life-changing move. Not only was my time in Hong Kong essential to my growth as a human — teaching me important lessons about taking risks, making international friends, and expanding my world — but also I was exposed to a culture completely different from my own.
Since then, I have become increasingly interested in China and its traditions, language, and culture. In the summers after 5th and 6th grade, we visited Hong Kong once again, and I immersed myself in what I now considered my second home. In 7th grade, I joined a new school that offered a Chinese language program, and I spent the summer before that in Hong Kong with a tutor that lived in our apartment building. This was the first time I was exposed to the Chinese language in a learning atmosphere.
Learning Chinese has changed my life. In recent trips, I have been able to apply what I’ve learned to real-life situations. Doing this has made me realize how far I’ve come in my Chinese language studies. Yes, I’ve experienced many situations where my language barrier has been obvious, but these situations have only given me more motivation to continue my learning.
Last March, I visited Changsha, China and visited Yali Experimental Middle School. While I was there, I attended an English language class where students were honing their English skills through role-playing. After the class, multiple students came up to me and tested what they’d learned. The students, blushing as they stumbled over words, made me realize why I study Chinese. They learn English so that they can connect with people like me. I learn Chinese so I can connect with people like them.
I study Chinese so that I can bring the world closer together, breaking language barriers and sharing experiences with people whose everyday lives and cultures are so much different from my own.
Mia Sloan is a high school student from New Haven, Connecticut, and is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.