Moving to a new place is challenging. Imagine packing up your stuff, selling everything you own, to move to the other side of the world. I did that. Of course many did that before me, it’s nothing special. But when you’re the only one in your family who’s ever changed their life so drastically, it’s very special. Now let’s get to it: COMMUNICATION! It’s one of the most important words for every living creature under the sun.
I know, my classmates all look really nice, right? That’s because they ARE! Although they’re very nice, talking to them was challenging. Very, very, very, challenging. I arrived in China expecting our classes to be in English. I mean, DUH! It’s Chinese for beginners, so OF COURSE they will speak English. Well, that wasn’t the case. My first day in class was horrible! The teacher addressed us in Chinese, I was like, “What? What? What’s going on? Why isn’t she speaking English?” I had a mild panic attack. Looking around the class, all of the students (except me and two Filipinos) understood what she was saying. I thought, “Wait a minute, am I stupid in China? Shit, is this what STUPID feels like? I’m always the best in language class! I’m in the “stupid-people-in-language-class” group now.”
A striking young man from Thailand sat behind me. I heard him laugh and say stuff in Chinese, which meant he understood some Chinese. Every single time the teacher said something, I turned around and asked, “What’d she say?” He would explain it to me and the two Filipino guys, Echo and Emerson. None of understood a word. Imagine how bummed out we were when we came into class one morning and our “Interpreter” had switched seats. He moved to the other side of the classroom! He probably didn’t want our stupidity to rub off on him.
The first three weeks were challenging. My classmates spoke some English, my teachers even less.
I only knew when the teacher addressed me, for I had memorized my Chinese name. When I heard 凤凰 (Phoenix), I knew she was talking to me. Understanding her was an even bigger problem, so I was unbelievably stressed. When whatever she said ended in 吗 (ma), I knew she asked me a question. Quick Chinese lesson: Yes/No Questions are formed by adding 吗 (ma) to an declarative or negative statement. Since I understood nothing, all I could say was, “老师，不好意思，我听不懂。” That means, “Teacher, I’m sorry I don’t understand.” This went on for about four weeks.
Feeling stupid while learning a foreign language, was new to me. I expected Ashton Kutcher to pop out at any moment, saying, “Sanrizz, OF COURSE you’ve been PUNK’D!” I learn languages easily, so this was a shock for me. You know how some people are good with numbers, equations and stuff? Well, I’m not one of those people. If you give me ten calculators, ask me calculate the same thing on all ten… all ten will have a different answer. It’s not that I’m stupid, I’m not. Numbers and plus, minus, to the tenth power, all that stuff doesn’t interest me. What interest me, is reading anything and everything that has to do with foreign languages.
I am laughing while writing this, but I’m thinking of a morning when I tried to have a conversation with one of my classmates. She was hanging up her clothes before class, I was on my way to the cafeteria. Our conversation went as followed:
Me: “Good morning! Are you going to class?” *my brightest smile*
Classmate: *looked at me as if I spoke Klingon, awkward smile.*
Me: (Thinking: does English sound like Klingon in China?) “Oooohh-kkkaayyy.” I pointed to the exit, since I didn’t know how to say, “I’m going to class,” in Chinese.
I thought, “I cant get by on English, it’s impossible. Sanrizz, if you don’t learn the language soon, you will DIE here. No one speaks English!”
That’s when I went to the library every single day for about two weeks. Went there at 16:30 right after class, I left when they turned off the last light. I started keeping a journal in Chinese. Wrote nothing personal, but I talked about how challenging it was for me to fit in, to communicate, and to adjust to some things in China. My teacher loved reading the entries. She told me that I’m her most amazing student: I went from “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” to forming complete sentences and writing my emotions in Chinese. All of that in just two to three week’s time.
Believe me, it wasn’t easy. My Grammar teacher encouraged me to write about my day in Chinese. Writing is my thing, but writing in Chinese? That seemed so intimidating! I reluctantly accepted her challenge, but I’m glad I did! Writing about my day, my experiences in China as a Black woman, I automatically learned how to express myself in Chinese. It’s not easy. My writing improved so much, that my teacher told me to write a book about my experiences there. I don’t know, maybe in the future.
Even the school administration agrees with my Grammar teacher. I am an extraordinary student! Why am I bragging? Well, I’m the only first-year-student to write a fifteen-page-graduation-essay. I kid you not. Most of the students struggles to write half a page, I wrote fifteen! The school was so impressed, the offered me my scholarship. I’ll be starting my second year very soon.
Never give up and always believe in yourself!