Thursday, October 4, 2012

"Wait, all my classes are in Chinese?! Am I ready for that?”

Current MAIS student Natalie Sammarco shares her thoughts on taking graduate-level coursework in Chinese:

Natalie Sammarco, MAIS '14
"Welcome to my first thoughts about applying to the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. Intimidating, right?

Yet, isn’t life all about perception? For many people, the challenge posed by taking classes in a target language is what draws people to the Center. That’s what I find in my classmates here. What better place to learn about Chinese society than living in China, studying at a level that is intellectually and academically rigorous? Not one person here isn’t a little bit self conscious about his or her abilities to function in Chinese at the level the Center demands. These feelings are warranted, though. It’s a big step: moving from learning Chinese to using Chinese to learn, especially at the graduate level.

What makes me so excited, even just a couple weeks into the semester, is that the questions about whether my Chinese is good enough have faded into 'Wait, what was I so worried about?' The classes haven’t suddenly become easier, but my classmates are supportive and understanding when topics are difficult. It’s really nice to be able to offer my own support when someone else needs it, too. It’s fascinating that people who attend the Center each year come from such different backgrounds. They can provide an outlook on the material and issues that otherwise would not have come to light if the international students were completely homogeneous. We have musicians, theater majors, recent college graduates, lawyers, writers, those who are looking for a career change and more in the student body. Everyone brings something new to the table.

So, worrying about whether my Chinese was good enough to be here seems to be irrelevant. My professors, classmates, and the certain amount of self confidence that drove me to apply for the program in the first place got me through insecurities. I find what I should have spent more time on was packing more practical clothes. I could use one more pair of comfortable sneakers, but I could always send for them from home."