My Chinese Adventure Begins


I was leaning forward with an iced mocha in my hand while sitting on a nicely upholstered chair in Starbucks, engaged in a great conversation with a friend about a handful of topics. For the sake of privacy, I’ll refer to this friend as Cornell. After more than an hour of dialogue, there came a brief lull in the conversation. That was my chance to ask the question that I had been so curious about. “Wait, so how did you end up studying Chinese?” I asked. Cornell paused for a moment and his eyes peered into the corner of the room as he sifted through his memory vault.

His eyes met mine again, and the story began. It was during an introductory level course for his major that a professor basically told the students that the future job market in their field of study pointed to China. And so Cornell, along with most of his classmates, enrolled in Chinese.

After having my initial question answered, I grew more intrigued, and I needed to know more. Pouncing at the next chance I had, I asked, “what do you think about the Chinese language compared to English and Korean?” This time the pause was a lot shorter. He leaned back for a bit, not to recollect memories, but this time to find words to describe what he wanted to express. He leaned forward again and began to describe this language in a way I’ve never heard before. “It’s grand,” he said. He described it as a language which in its very identity reflects the grandiose empire of the ‘Middle Kingdom.’ Striving to successfully convey this concept to me, he provided me with an example. “When a professor in China enters a hall and greets his students, he says, ‘大家好 (da jia hao).’”

“大家好 (da jia hao),” he repeated again to himself, gazing past me to the hall of students that had materialized in his mind. His eyes returned to mine. “That phrase, it’s so grand, it fills the hall.”

As much as I wanted to understand what he was trying to convey, I couldn’t fully grasp it. When he said, “大家好 (da jia hao),” I had no idea what the words meant, but I picked up on the depth of understanding he had in the language. For him to comprehend and communicate such a specific characteristic of the language spoke volumes to me. To him, the Chinese language wasn’t merely symbols and sounds; he perceived so much more.

Later that day, when I returned home, flashbacks of our Chinese language discussion played through my head. I’ll be honest, his talk influenced me quite a bit. It was the shower thoughts I had that night that took it to the next level.

Healing in the steam of my shower, I recalled non-Chinese friends in my life that could speak Chinese. A good friend quickly came to mind. For the sake of privacy, let’s call him Yonsei. It was a humid summer in Seoul back in 2014, when I met Yonsei at a coffee shop to catch up before he jet off to China for a short intensive program he referred to as PiB (Princeton in Beijing), a renowned intensive Chinese language summer program also open to non-Princeton students. I’m now well aware of the program and how much of a genius he was for getting in. He was already able to converse well with the ladies at the dim sum restaurant we went to a year earlier.

Another friend also came to mind. Let’s call her SNU. I met her and another friend a few months ago for lunch, and she had some papers in her bag. Having studied abroad in China with multiple trips to China since then, I was sure her Chinese was great but I didn’t realize her true ability until she revealed that the papers in her bag were a few copied pages from a Chinese book she was translating to Korean.

My last shower thought was of LG Hyung. LG jokingly liked to remind his friends and me that he is the first Korean citizen born in mainland China. Apparently it was a big deal since it was even published in the newspaper. Since he grew up in China, his Chinese is perfect. His company now has him going on business trips to China throughout the year.

In the following days, I did a lot of research. I looked up programs like Princeton in Beijing (PiB). The promo video and student interviews definitely did its job of persuading and got me excited to push myself to new levels in Chinese. I also stumbled upon Schwarzman Scholars, which further solidified my perception of Chinese language as the new frontier for business and opportunity.

Fast forward to today, and I’m even more resolute in my ambition to study Chinese. I’m registered to take an entry level Chinese course here at Korea University next semester, and I’ve already bought the textbook. I pick up my Chinese tourist visa tomorrow, and I’m off to China in two weeks.  There I’ll be shown around Beijing and Shanghai for a total of 12 days by a Chinese friend that I met while studying Korean this past summer here in Seoul. Do I plan to practice my Chinese while I’m there? Of course!

Despite this being a new language journey that I am beginning, I am still very much committed to reaching superior level on my Korean OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) this summer before I leave Korea. I am also determined to obtain equivalent scores in reading, writing and listening. Even after my time in Korea, I hope to keep up my Korean language skills.

As I embark on this new Chinese adventure, I invite all of the HKC family to join me as well. I’ll continue to blog about my journey along the way. Until next time, I wish you all the best as you pursue your own pursuits in life. Cheers to wherever life takes us.