Friday, July 19, 2013

Return to the R.O.C.

It has been over two years since the end of my Rotary Exchange in Taipei, Taiwan. I often think of that year as the best year of my life and what a shame it was for me to peak at such a young age. At the beginning of my exchange I could barely speak any Chinese. I could say "thank you" and "I want coffee" with poor pronunciation. By the end of my exchange I could say "I want my coffee black and hot" with mediocre pronunciation. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of my exchange was that I didn't return to the States with the ability to discuss the housing market and tax reform in Chinese. My dream to become fluent during my exchange was far-fetched  I had never studied Chinese before my exchange and ten months was not nearly long enough to obtain that desired level of working fluency. Chinese sounded nothing like any other language I learned before. This made it nearly impossible to simply pick-up words. I didn't understand how the language worked. I had no knowledge of radicals, or stroke order for characters, or how the Chinese possibly use a keyboard to type. "How could they possibly fit all of the characters on a single keyboard?" It took me nearly 3 months to start to grasp how the language worked. Due to my host families’ hard work and my Chinese teachers I did learn some Mandarin. As time went on the rate that I was learning increased. By the end of my exchange I was not even close to being fluent but it was a start. Thanks to the impromptu speeches at Rotary meetings I was comfortable speaking Chinese. My preference to speaking and listening has been a curse while taking written placement tests and a blessing in class discussions. 

Upon my return to the States I continued to study Chinese at George Washington. After spending nearly a year in Taiwan I was confident that the elementary Chinese class would be well below me. My ballooned head deflated after I failed my first two quizzes. The problem was that I needed to write in Simplified Chinese instead of the Traditional Chinese that I learned while I was in Taiwan. It wasn't an easy task but I managed to get a good mark and pass onto the next level. Fortunately the following year I could continue my study of Traditional Chinese. Unfortunately over that summer all I did was install air-conditioners and apparently reading the Chinese labels off of the boxes wasn't enough to keep up my language skills. After returning to the classroom it was obvious who had spent time in China over the summer. My competitiveness kicked in and I worked hard to catch-up, because nothing gets my goat like someone being able to speak Chinese better than me. My Chinese book accompanied me everywhere including the ice-baths after cross country workouts. During this last year I realized that in order to really improve my Chinese I needed to return to Taiwan or go to China. I decided to do both.

I’m back, I've returned to the R.O.C. 

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