My love/hate (but mostly love) relationship with China.

Hi everyone! My name is Moriah Lenhart-Wees and I’m The University of Idaho Confucius Institute’s new Program Specialist. I’m excited to help connect people in the Boise community to the great UICI programs we have. By way of introduction, let me give a little background on how I came to learn Chinese and love China.

Among people who know me, there is a running joke that China is trying to kill me. But like all tragic love affairs, I just can’t stop going back to it. China has a way of being brutally humbling with you. But after you survive—and so far, I always have—you feel stronger, more invincible, and more in love with China than you ever were before.

My first trip to China was in summer 2008 during the Beijing Olympics. It was most definitely a fascinating first glimpse of an ancient country that was trying its best to be a modern superpower. Skies were blue in Beijing at that time (an occurrence I found to be much rarer in later visits). My dad had brought me with him on a business trip to the Olympics and it was a day that he had to work and couldn’t go out and explore the city with me. Though I did not speak any Chinese whatsoever and had grown up in a small city (or tiny city by Chinese standards), I wouldn’t let that deter me and I decided that I could look at a map, hop on the subway, count the stops to Tiananmen Square, get off and have a look around and then hop back on, count backwards, and find my hotel. It should be easy, I thought. Right? Wrong.

As soon as I got off the subway, I was awash in a sea of people. Chinese people came up and gestured that they wanted to take pictures with me. I suspected my blonde hair was responsible for the extra attention. After a series of photos and wandering around in awe of all the commotion—an Olympic bicycle race rushed right past me so I was giddy with having seen an Olympic event, however briefly and accidentally, for free. But my mood was quickly dampened when I noticed my flip flop had torn and my right foot was left defenseless against the hot pavement.

I tried to drag my worn sandal beneath my foot but quickly realized it might be easier just to find and buy a new pair. Naively I reasoned that with millions of people mulling around there must be millions of shoes waiting to fit millions of feet.  But between the combination of my inability to speak Chinese to seek help finding what I needed and the size of my big American feet… buying a new pair of shoes turned out to be quite the feat… see what I did there?  I wandered around for hours looking for shoes and getting myself more and more lost in China’s capital city.  I thought I would never find my hotel

and would have to live out the rest of my days lost, confused, and barefoot in Beijing.  I hysterically thought I might not survive my first trip to China!

Finally, a kind Chinese college student named Honky came to my rescue. He spoke some English and helped me find the Chinese equivalent of a Walmart and buy the Chinese equivalent of Crocks—the ugly pieces of rubber being the only footwear to actually fit me, I kid you not. Honky and I chatted and he gave me my first Chinese name: 茉莉花, Molihua meaning Jasmine flower and sounding kind of like my English name Moriah. Spoiler alert: Honky helped me find my way home that day and I did not die lost in Beijing. He and I exchanged emails and kept touch in English throughout my senior year of high school.  After I decided that I loved languages and challenges enough to pursue a degree in Mandarin in college, we began to exchange emails in Chinese well. He was my pen pal for many years and that experience proved how valuable language learning can be—it can forge new friendships and get you out of sticky situations.

The second time China tried to kill me was in 2011. I touched down in Beijing for a fall semester of study abroad on a dreary, cold day after just spending a warm summer in a tropical Taiwan town. My body must have gone instantly into shock. I immediately felt a cold coming on and couldn’t breathe very well. Within a couple of days, the cold developed into a full blown sinus infection. At first, I wasn’t alarmed and tried various remedies: cold medications of both Eastern and Western origin and hot tea. I saw no improvement. A few weeks into my sickness, I visited a doctor, who suggested I try Chinese acupuncture. Begrudgingly I allowed a series of needles to be stuck in my face (no, it didn’t hurt) and then received small shocks to the areas around my sinuses (yes, it did hurt).  I even tried fire cupping, which to this day I do not understand, but I was getting desperate and willing to try anything to be able to breathe again. But alas, nothing worked and my sinus infection kept its death grip on me. I went and saw other doctors—by this time I was an expert at explaining my plight in Chinese. I had memorized so many new and exotic terms to describe my disgusting condition that my Chinese teachers even taught our class a Chengyu (traditional saying) in my honor: 久病成医 meaning “a longtime illness makes the patient a doctor.” On the linguistic bright side, I could now fully diagnose myself, list my symptoms and request treatment in Chinese.  The new doctors gave me some antibiotics, which helped temporarily but when the pills were gone, the infection came back and spread then to my eyes and ears. I was a sorry sight.

At night, after hours of difficult Chinese homework, I would skype my parents back in Idaho and complain that I might not survive, that I might just suffocate to death in Beijing. Admittedly, I may have been a tad dramatic in my state of illness. My mom offered to fly me home and reassured me that I could finish the semester early, but something inside of me told me to stay (perhaps it was pride or my desire to prove to China that I could survive whatever it threw my way). I finished out the semester in Beijing, despite looking and feeling like a zombie. That semester I learned more Chinese than I had the two previous years combined and advanced to a very proficient level in the language. My tones improved, my knowledge of grammar was strengthened and I got lots of conversation practice both in and outside the doctor’s office. When I arrived back to Boise, still sick, I realized how much I had accomplished.  My Mandarin had gotten quite good and I felt grateful to China for pushing me past what I thought I was capable.

The third and last time China tried to do me in actually wasn’t really China’s fault. I just happened to be in China during one of my worst moments (okay, let me be honest, worst months) and China will forever be my companion in those dark memories, while also being the light at the end of the tunnel that saved me. I was a student in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship Program in Chengdu and I was living in China for a few months after my graduation from Georgetown University. Not long after I arrived in Chengdu, my long term relationship ended. As Charlie Brown would have said were he in China, “nothing takes the taste out of spicy rabbit head quite like unrequited love.” Needless to say, it was a rough time and instead of taking full advantage of the deliciously spicy food, the cute panda bears, and the fantastic Chinese classes, I found myself in a whirlwind of emotion. It was hard to be in China away from everyone I knew and unable to express myself with the same depth and complexity as in my native English. Unfortunately I was focusing on all the negatives and I thought to myself, “Curse China and the despair I feel here! I knew China was bad luck for me!”

But one day on my way to my rigorous Chinese classes, I was walking through the most intense rain storm I’ve experienced. Even my umbrella couldn’t save me from the torrential downpour so I gave up and strolled by the edge of a pond on campus soaking up the rain. The pond was dirty and grimy looking, but in the midst of it, I spotted a lotus flower floating there—just bobbing cheerfully under the pounding rain. Right then and there, I decided that I, like that lotus, would emerge from a messy, ugly situation more radiant and full of life than before.

I spontaneously decided to get on a bus from Chengdu and go hike Mount Emei, considered to be one of China’s four most divine Buddhist mountains.  My plan was to hike up and down in one day and board a bus back at night to return to Chengdu. Unfortunately, my failed sense of direction led me to take a wrong turn at some point and as dusk began to fall on the mountain, I realized I would not be getting back on a bus that night. I had to seek refuge at a Buddhist monastery deep in the forest of the mountain. That night the grounds of the monastery were so utterly dark that I saw more stars than I had ever seen before, even after my childhood of camping out in my own private Idaho wilderness. All the stars seemed to tell me that this world was much bigger than we can ever imagine and perhaps the things we see as problems are just the next step in our journey. I may have been feeling overly philosophical on top of that mountain in the middle of China, but my feeling of hope was only heightened the next morning when I was awakened by monkeys (yes, monkeys!!) howling and jumping across the tin roof of the monastery. I rushed outside just as the sun was beginning to rise over the mountains and the view was truly magnificent.  It lived up to the gorgeous landscapes found in Chinese paintings. A thin layer of mist rested on the treetops and the sky was streaked with brilliant colors. A red Buddhist structure stood off to the side and lush green vegetation was all around. While Buddhist monks used slingshots to keep the monkeys at bay, the first rays of sunlight hit my face and I felt an enormous, involuntary smile creep across my face. In that moment, on top of Mount Emei in the Sichuan province of the Middle Kingdom— after so much sadness– I felt authentically happy. Happy to be in this country that I still needed to learn so much about. Happy to be learning one of the most complex and beautiful languages in the world. Happy to be alone in the country with the world’s largest population because I was really just minutes away from meeting someone with whom I could forge a lifelong friendship. I realized that in that moment, I possessed the two things that make initiating friendships possible—a smile and the ability to communicate with another human being… in Mandarin no less! It was a glorious morning on Mount Emei and it was a glorious realization that everything was going to be okay and I would not, in fact, die in China—not from getting lost and stranded in monstrously large city, not of a terrible, incurable sickness, and most certainly not because of a broken heart.

Moriah

China had once again pushed me to grow and change, and in the end, I not only survive— I thrived! Learning Chinese has given me the ability to navigate unknown territory (and only get mildly lost, just as I do on a daily basis in my own country).

Learning Chinese opened the door to a billion new friendships. Learning Chinese taught me diligence, perseverance, and discipline. And at the end of the day, if you can commit to studying Chinese and loving China (thorns and all), you can do just about anything.

Maybe it’s best not to compare my relationship with China to an ill-fated love affair, but instead to something more akin to the tiger mom I never knew I wanted. It will watch me fall on my face and make me get back up, and then when I finally figure things out for myself, it will give me a knowing wink, and whisper, “I knew all along you could do it.” And then I can’t help but feel insanely proud for getting through, expressing myself in a new language and culture, and embracing life.

That’s what China does. It teaches you to embrace life—the good, the bad, the ugly. In Chinese there is a Chengyu (traditional saying) that describes the ups and downs of life: 酸甜苦辣, literally meaning sour, sweet, bitter, spicy—all the flavors that make for a magnificent, albeit challenging meal called life.

中国我爱你。 China, I love you.

Summary of the 2015-2016 volunteer experience

夏末将至,归期已近。我的2015,注定因国际汉语教师志愿者而与众不同。

记得电影《后会无期》里有这么一句对白:你连世界都没有观过,哪儿来的世界观。当时觉得很有道理:祖国的大好河山确实看过不少,但自己的确还没有机会去外面的世界看看,所以世界观还是不完整的。机缘巧合之下我开启了自己的圆梦之旅:以国际汉语教师志愿者的身份漂洋过海来到了世界的另一边:美国爱达荷大学孔子学院。

爱达荷大学坐落在爱达荷州莫斯科镇。和所有的freshman一样,初来乍到,我对周围的一切都充满了好奇:如画的风景、友善的人群、清新的空气、独特的文化。这些美好的事物一次又一次地冲击、更新着我的世界观。当然,虽然西方文明很先进,但是我很清楚自己的任务是中学西传而并非西学东渐。明确了自己的目标之后,我的汉语教师志愿者之路正式拉开帷幕。

师傅领进门,修行靠个人。由于非科班出生,我对自己的教学能力一直没有很大的把握。幸运的是,我身边有着一群经验丰富、乐于助人的前辈老师,在他们的指导帮助下,我逐渐掌握了其中的门道和方法。

Moscow Charter School是开启我汉语教学之路的第一所学校。Moscow Charter School的中文名叫“莫斯科特许中学”该学校课堂氛围活跃轻松,和蔼可亲的校长先生让人丝毫感觉不出高高在上的威严之气。在MCS的上半个学期,我任教的班里共有8个学生。一开始的教学并没有想象的那样轻松,学生的学习热情也不是十分高涨。不过从平时的教学过程来看,孩子们对于汉语学习还是保持着强烈的好奇心和动力,个别孩子的语言天赋真的让我刮目相看。瞧着他们求知若渴的可爱模样,我决定要下一番功夫,认真教学。掌握一门语言必然从发音入手。如果汉字是汉语的精华所在,那么拼音就是汲取精华的引子。对于初中年级的学生,学习拼音并不是一件难事,因为除了发音有区别外,字母基本上是和英文字母相对应的。因此,拼音教学进展的很顺利。唯一碰到的难题就是“ǖ”这个字母的发音。由于语言习惯,我的美国学生很难区分“ǖ”和“ū”这两个字母。后来,我回想起在培训的时候老师曾经教过我们如何帮助学生掌握“ǖ”字母的发音:先发出“i”这个音,再慢慢变口型。果不其然,在后来的教学实践中我采用了这一方法,同学们很快的掌握了其中的奥妙。在此,我十分感谢培训老师们的言传身教。语言和文化是具有内在联系。因此,孩子们对于每周一的“汉语言文化课堂”充满了殷切期盼。美食文化是中华文化的重要组成部分。所以,中华美食成了我俘获他们学习汉语的“杀手锏”。饺子、春卷儿、扬州炒饭、什锦炒面等等…在品味美食的同时也少不了食品词汇的学习。由于有了原动力,关于“食物”的词汇他们学的毫不费力。想象一下吧:边看《舌尖上的中国》边品尝美食是一种怎样的体验呢。课程有条不紊地推进着,孩子们的学习成果越来越明显:从一开始的拼音、简单词汇,再到现在的句子、语段,听着他们略带口音却非常努力的比划、说着,我的喜悦之情不言而喻。对外汉语教学(特别是教学对象是中小学生),一定少不了美工与音乐。这个时候的汉语课堂肯定少不了喜庆与欢乐。剪纸、窗花、民乐粉墨登场了。很庆幸自己小时候的二胡学习,让我有了展示机会。剪纸、中国结则要归功于培训期间老师们的教导。看着孩子们边学边玩,不亦乐乎,我仿佛置身其中,回到童年,欢声笑语历历在目。中国也好,美国也罢:哪儿都有爱学的和不爱学的。爱学习的自然不必多虑多言。但是碰到那些不爱学习的孩子,一开始我还真是束手无策:由于中美两国教育体制的差异,国内那一套用来对付不听话学生的方法在这里根本行不通。在我蹙眉无奈之际:爱达荷大学孔子学院的中方薛院长、美方Matt院长特意为我们任课教师安排了两次Classroom Management Training,虽然不能保证在今后的课堂中做到游刃有余,但的确受益良多。在此,我非常感谢两位院长的良苦用心。2016年春, Moscow Charter School 的汉语学习阵容越来越壮大,从初中到小学,从刚开始的8人到现在的49人,我的内心是快乐的。虽然称不上成果,但其中收获满满。感谢爱达荷大学孔子学院中美方院长的支持与指导,没有你们的努力开拓和推广,也就没有今天站在讲台上的自己。感谢MCS校长先生的支持与理解。感谢孔院各位老师平时的谆谆教导,让我从一个毕业生小白慢慢步入志愿者教师的正道。在最好的年代遇见最好的你们,感谢命运的安排。课堂之外是我们在莫斯科丰富多彩的业余生活:周末集体出游烧烤、爱达荷大学校友日花车巡游展、和外国友人欢度感恩圣诞、节假日的各种free-talk & finger-food party等等……身在异乡,难免思乡:故乡人、家乡味会在不经意间占据你的心扉。然而我又如此幸运:身边的老师总会如亲人般送来无微不至的关心,出门在外,有你们,我很温暖!

人生很长,但时间并不会让我成长;人生很短,唯有经历让我展翅翱翔。2015我很知足,2016行将上路……

 

 

8

爱达荷大学孔子学院2016夏令营

By Juan Liu 2016年6月至7月,爱达荷孔子学院主办的夏令营又开营了!本次夏令营针对不同年龄阶段的青少年,共组织了三期:Bridge Idaho,Parks & Rec和TRIO。孔子学院的工作人员们为三期夏令营精心准备了不同层次的教学计划,其内容涵盖了中文学习和中国文化体验,具体包含了:语言、音乐、舞蹈、手工、武术、舞龙、中国食品制作等。本次夏令营从不同角度使学生们学习和了解到中国文化,在内容和形式上与往年相比更加丰富多彩,得到了青少年们的认可和喜爱。虽然工作很累,但是看到孩子们使用中文说话、唱歌、念诗歌时开心的笑脸,大家觉得再累也值得了!孔子学院所有工作人员期待下次与孩子们的再相聚!

10 Sources that Prove You Can Learn Chinese in Under 6 Months.

Too many people think that it will take 5 to 10 years to be able to use Chinese. That simply isn’t true, all of these people below learned Chinese in 6 months or less. Some to an impressive level of fluency, others were able to hold a conversation after just 2 days. Languages aren’t learned in Years, they are learned in hours, hours of work consistently put it in every day. Choosing to study in the most efficient way possible can greatly reduce how many hours you will spend, so be sure to read the articles and learn from their successes and mistakes!

These guys learned Chinese and 3 other languages in 1 year!

You can read about their experiences here.

 

He learned Chinese in six months, and wants to show you how to do the same!

 

This is a video of Benny Lewis, creator of fluent in 3 months giving an interview in Chinese after only 3 months of learning!

You can read his blog here.

Check out these blog posts about becoming fluent in under 6 months!

Check out Ruby Robin’s blog about she became fluent in only 6 months 

Here is a great guide on how to be fluent in Chinese in only 6 months.

The Hacking Chinese guide to overcoming obstacles when attempting fluency in 3 month.

Benny Lewis’s article about why Chinese isn’t as hard as you think it is.

This Journalist for the Guardian was conversational after only 2 days of intensive study.