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.
Despite the influence of my Latin culture, I am mostly a product of my ambition. So, after graduating from a primarily Hispanic elementary school, while my old friends chose Spanish as their high school language I chose what was most different in my mind--Mandarin. There began the seed of new possibilities for me.
Everyday, I was transported to a separate world within the classroom; I was amazed by the strokes of characters that had no meaning to me when I first walked into the classroom, but were full of meaning by the time I stepped out. My China story began with a yearning for different, and transformed into a yearning for depth. Little did I know that this longing for depth of knowledge would be attended to during the spring of my sophomore year.
Being the daughter of two first generation immigrants, I struggled to place myself in American society for the first years of my life. I therefore thought it extraordinary when my sophomore year Chinese teacher began planning a class trip to China; The thought of belonging to not one, or two, but three societies--whole countries! I spent one week in China, catching my first glimpse of the world I had been illustrating in my mind since freshman year. This was a milestone not only for myself, but for my whole family. It was an experience that shouted: I am Mexican, I was raised in America, I know China first-hand. I belong in the world because I am a global citizen.
This sense of interconnectedness and newly formed identity has since followed me in my Chinese studies. It followed me throughout the month I spent living in China with the dramatically inspiring 2017 CPS China Summer Language, Culture and Technology Initiative group, just as it follows me when I go home and teach my family phrases in Mandarin. I know that every new Mandarin word I learn, every new Chinese cultural fact I understand, and every intercultural friendship I form is a crucial board in the bridge I am building — a bridge larger than what my mind could have fathomed before the beginning of my China story — that spans from the roots of Mexico, across my warm home, America, all the way to the open hearts in China.
Citlali Blanco is a high school student from Chicago, IL, and is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.