So, like some of you know, I went to China for three weeks from 21 June to 12 July. This is my second time going to China. I went on an International Summer School to Beijing June/July 2009. This time around, I got a very different experience of China. One that left me almost disheartened at the country and my love and passion for its culture, which is a big motivation for me learning Chinese. However, I see this as part of the growing pains with coming to accept such a vastly different culture. Allow me to explain.
Back in 2008, when I started learning Chinese, I would never have thought all these opportunities and personal development would come my way. I thought this it was interesting language and wanted to learn another foreign language. I've never done it before, little did I know what an interesting relationship would arise.
Learning another language has been an amazing journey, especially with Mandarin, because of its vastly different culture. They say, with acquiring a new language, one acquires a new soul. This is very much true and this is part of the growing pains I'm talking about. I've been mostly hidden from Chinese culture through my now three & half years of learning Chinese. In 2009 when I went to Beijing, I loved it. The culture was awesome. The people great, but now I realize, that wasn't a China experience.
I was surrounded by classmates, by other international students and a safe University campus environment. We went to foreign student hangouts and drank with expats. By all means, this was international experience in China. Although I was exposed to China, I was left with big comfort zone still.
Now this time around. I went alone. I had to fend for myself... in China. With China. This was a new shock for me. One that I wasn't very much prepared for. Learning Chinese comes with the culture. There is no other way about it. All language learners undergo a certain amount of enculturation.
Learning Chinese has not only been a challenge with the language, but also my own beliefs of cultural truths. In a way learning Chinese, has brought me to breakdown my own ethnocentric ideas. This is what I experienced in China this time around, but a lot more in my face. I was constantly trying to dissect my ideas against China's culture. Obvious examples being, the spitting in streets, to more bigger ideals such an ever present communist presence (和谐 is everywhere). My initial reaction was a knee-jerk disagreement with everything that didn't sit well with me. This made me disheartened. I almost felt as if my passion for China and Chinese was dying right in front of my eyes.
Then it got better. Like most things time is what it takes. I realized that for me to develop not only as a language learner, but as a person, this exposure to another culture is essential for development. No-one said it was going to be an easy ride. For some it is, but for me, it was tougher that I expected. That was almost another surprise, that I thought I knew China. But I didn't. It was a shock. I know now, that I'm even far more away from understanding China than ever before. This trip taught me much humility. But it inspired me as well. I'll have to go back to China in the future after my studies. Get the culture and language under my belt. This is the journey or the 道 I'm destined for.
There is still much to be learned.
More posts to come on my language experience, on Shanghai & Xiamen as well as other interesting posts! Stay tuned.