Dreaming in Chinese
I am sitting in the offices of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, across from an important diplomat. Leaning intently over the desk in his office, he leans forward even further.
“Ni zhege zhoumo xihuan shenme?
Surprised that the question of what I like to do on the weekend was asked in the seemingly austere situation surprised me, but I replied.
“Wo xihuan shui jiao, ye qu kan dian ying.” I like to sleep and go to the movies.
“Ni shuo zhongwen hao, keshi xie zi xie de bu hao.” You speak Chinese well, but your writing isn’t good.
I wake with a start, realizing that I am in fact not in the office of a member of the Chinese government. Rather, I had just dreamed – in Chinese – of my oral Chinese final that was set to take place later that morning.
Why did I decide to study Chinese?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times, as I work through pages of homework late at night or as I roll out of bed for my 8:30 Mandarin class, and it’s something I get asked frequently. The origins of why I started can be traced to what I ultimately hope to achieve through my study of the language, which relates to goals set as a sophomore in high school.
It was in high school that I first became interested in international relations and decided to become a diplomat. The ability to view real life situations both pragmatically and theoretically was appealing, and the interaction of nations was intriguing. I then set my sights on a career as a Political Officer within the State Department’s Foreign Service. Looking at their career website, one of the critical need languages was Mandarin. Realizing the benefits of knowing a critical language in the application process, my study of Mandarin commenced.
Since then, Mandarin has become more than just a means to the end goal of working in the Foreign Service. The language and its country grew fascinating, as time and time again I read news articles on China’s past and present. The origin and growth of the country was riveting, and I as I read more about it, I became certain that focusing on US- China relations is what I want to do. The clues about the culture contained within the language piqued my interest, and studying both Chinese and international relations at the University of Chicago has solidified my dreams of working at the US embassy in Beijing.
It was these goals and experiences, then, that led to my choice to study abroad in Beijing. I had known that I wanted to take advantage of studying abroad in college, initially thinking about going to Europe. But as I became more interested in China, it became increasingly apparent that if I wanted to be fluent in the language and understand the culture, I would have to travel to China, and the East Asian Civilizations program in Beijing offers me the opportunity to do just that. The quarter long program will include three courses on East Asian Civilizations, in addition to a Mandarin course. Additionally, I hope to attend the language pre-session, which would allow me to spend a month prior to the start of the program in Beijing studying Mandarin.
The benefits of this program are immense. Perhaps the largest benefits will come in the study of Mandarin, for studying it in China is drastically more beneficial than studying it in America. Getting to live within the culture will provide me with countless opportunities to practice every facet of the language, and being immersed in a city full of native speakers will not only enlarge my vocabulary but also improve my pronunciation. Upon returning, I hope to have jumped past second year Mandarin, so that as a second year student, I will be in the third-year level. The civilization classes will also offer me the chance to gain an even deeper understanding of the history of China and Asia, and getting to see such famous landmarks such as the Great Wall or the Forbidden Palace is an experience that facilitate even greater understanding of every aspect of Chinese culture.
Academically, my study there will allow me to complete my core requirements for civilization study, as well as allowing me to skip a year of Mandarin. This will allow me to complete the language requirement for my East Asian Languages & Civilizations major, as well as furthering my goal of becoming fluent by graduation. These benefits will also carry over to my professional goals, as being fluent in Mandarin and having past experience living in China will be exceptionally beneficial as I seek to work in the Foreign Service.
Since the night before the oral final earlier this year, I haven’t dreamed again in Chinese. My friend joked it would make a good title for a book, but I see it also as representative of my past experiences and goals in Chinese relating to my academic and professional goals. I may not be dreaming in Chinese, but I am dreaming of Chinese and what I hope to accomplish through studying Mandarin. I also dream of China and my goal to study there. Make no mistake; dreaming in Chinese may have been a one-time experience, but dreaming of Chinese and China is something that will continue to impact my academics and career for decades to come.