Diary of a 老外

First Prize Blue RibbonEli Sciammas
First Prize, Spring 2017 Essay Contest

Diary of a 老外*

*老外 is a somewhat negative/comedic slang term for foreigner in China

I’ll never forget the first day I arrived in Beijing for my fall 2015 semester study abroad trip to study Mandarin. I had just gotten off the plane and it was an incredibly smoggy and dreary day outside. I was jetlagged, confused, barely understood the language that surrounded me, and worst of all I found out the airline had lost my luggage. All I had with me was a pair of shorts and an already dirty white shirt. And yet, I was the happiest I had ever been. The mystifying and magical place I had always dreamt of going to was finally within my grasp. I had reached a place full of new experiences that had awaited my arrival since I was born. During my time in Beijing I made so many new friends, learned so much about Chinese language and culture, tried food I never thought I would taste, and did things I never thought I would do.

Rewind two years and I was sitting in my first Mandarin Chinese class here at Gustavus. I distinctly remember the professor walking into our classroom full of nervous students not knowing what to expect. She immediately started spouting off an introduction to the class completely in Mandarin and everyone looked at each other in utter confusion. However, it was from that moment on that I knew I was in love with this language. These confusing and tonal sounds would eventually make sense to me and the alien looking characters written on the chalkboard would soon grow to have meaning. There is something so mysterious yet so simple about Chinese that ultimately drew me into a nearly unhealthy obsession with the language.

The skills that I have been learning and studying for about three years now have allowed me to already do so many things. I can have conversations with one of my best friend’s immigrant parents, I can watch Chinese reality TV and study their experience, I can read stories integral to Chinese culture, and most of all I can build relationships with people I never would have been able to before. I know the possibilities of learning another language are endless, especially one so different from our own. This is why I applied for the Confucius Institute Scholarship to study Mandarin in China at a Chinese university for one year after I graduate from Gustavus. The Confucius Institute is a very reputable organization based in many countries across the world and highly encourages the study of the Chinese language for students of all nationalities. Each year they offer scholarships with varying lengths of time and study focuses, but I am choosing to purely focus on the Chinese language. It has been an intensely long process to apply for this scholarship and I only just very recently actually submitted my application. Over the six month process, I had to prepare and pass two Chinese language examinations that covered speaking, listening, reading, and writing as well as maintain communication with the Institute director. After these exams were completed, I had to submit a 700 character personal statement in Chinese about why I want this scholarship and what I will do with my newly acquired skills.

What will I do with my new skills if I get this scholarship? Well, I’m planning on staying in China and hopefully building a life there. With my Communication Studies degree, I will enter the world of Chinese media and begin to better the connection between the United States and China. I want to improve the Chinese view on Americans, showing we are not all over-confident nationalists with a burning passion to rule the world. I also want to show Americans how the Chinese are not an evil communist country whose pastime is eating dogs, but a beautiful nation built on the foundation of family, respect, and collectivity.