Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fifth Year at ACC

I think my life at ACC is a lot different than many other students here. First of all, I am the only fifth year language student, which means that I have 2 teachers working full time to teach me Chinese, and second of all, I am the only native speaking Chinese American at the program. These two unique situations have probably shaped my ACC experience in very different ways than if I were your more stereotypical white American student who started studying Chinese in college.

Being the only fifth year: I can't slack off. Ever. Because with two teachers teaching just me, it is very obvious if I don't prepare for lessons. I've forgotten my 古汉 homework twice now, and both times, class was extremely painful and embarrassing.

That aside, some students also ask me if I get lonely being the only fifth year. To be honest, I feel a little bit left out when all the classes bond with each other (after all, spending every day with the same people do that to you), however, I don't feel lonely at all. This is mostly because during my classes, my teachers and I have a lot of stimulating conversations, and I'm not missing any additional human presence. We talk about anything from American and Chinese labor situations to popular reality TV shows. However, at the same time, if I don't purposefully reach out to the other students, I can isolate myself pretty fast. During the first day of classes, I felt really swamped with work and didn't try extra hard to find other people. Without trying, I ended up having 5 meals by myself at random restaurants around the area before I realized that I can't keep on continuing with ACC by just talking to my teachers and doing homework.

Fifth year lesson material is also a lot more intellectually stimulating than fourth year. Whereas fourth year gets a lot of watered down material (I take Thursday classes with them occasionally), there's more real literature with fifth year. However, today, when I was eating lunch with my cousin and uncle, I was once again rudely awakened to how limited my Chinese is. While ACC teachers are taught to speak a certain way, the rest of China does not and there is more slang than any text book can ever teach. There's 成语, there's 俗语, there's slang, there's reference to obscure shows, and there's random wildfire phrases that originated from some post on the internet. I really hate those moments when I feel like I'll never be as good as I want to be in Chinese.

My goal in Chinese is ultimately to be able to conduct myself in Chinese without feeling like I am going to be exposed as a fake at any moment. This kind of goes back to my other unique situation, which is being Chinese, but American, but Chinese all at the same time in China.

In comparison to other students, I feel like there is extra pressure on me for my Chinese to be good. Whereas if I were obviously foreign, I can say pretty much anything and people would be impressed with my ability to speak Chinese. But right now, based on my appearances, people expect my Chinese to be fluent, so when I am confused about an item on the menu, confused about a reference, or just don't know how to react to a situation, people often think I'm stupid or really really ditsy. The Light Fellowship's pre-orientation warned me about this, my teachers at ACC also brought it up, and I never thought I would let it get to me. But in the end, it has become a huge hindrance to my learning when every time I ask a question, the response I get is a judgement and a "duh, what rock have you been hiding under" look. I really shouldn't let it get to me, but lately, I've gotten into a habit of pretending I know what's going on when I really don't just so I can avoid that feeling of shame. I want to shout, no I don't know what this means! and I don't care if you think I should know it!

The funny as this is, the easiest solution for me at this point isn't to make my Chinese better, but actually for my Chinese to seem worse. Right now, because my Chinese pronunciation is too good and 标准(and I don't mean for this to be boastful), everyone I meet expects me to be as capable in Chinese as the next guy. If I show that I understand even just a little bit, they start going off really fast (like the guy at the herbal medicine store and all the waitresses I've encountered so far). Sometimes to act completely foreign and befuddled is the only way I can get people to start their explanations from the beginning and start from the basic assumption that I am as ignorant as the 8 year old on the other side of the store, which isn't necessarily good for my self esteem. Unfortunately, people are a lot more helpful and nice when they think you're foreign than if they think you're just kind of stupid and ridiculous.

While the above to observations aren't necessarily positive, I do recognize that I am in a unique position to gain a ton from the ACC program. At the end of the day, I am thankful that I have good command of my tones, which is one of the largest obstacles non-native Chinese speakers struggle with. ACC fifth year is tailored strictly to your abilities so no matter your level of expertise, fifth year is still intensive and still helpful.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It's so, so important for a lot of Light Fellows to consider. My wife, who is Korean American, definitely dealt with this in Korea when we went out there to work. Sometimes the taxi drivers actually asked, without malice, if she was retarded?

    Ouch. Not a good way to spend any part of your day.

    I advised her to try to flip this around and say, "I'm Korean-American trying to discover more about my parents' language and culture."

    Boom. Instant hero. The taxi driver suddenly thinks she's the best thing ever and all Korean-Americans should be like her.

    Not saying that exact strategy would work, and you're developing other strategies on your own, but it can definitely take conscious planning to work through these very predictable and very frustrating challenges.

    Keep it up, though! You're going great. =)