Growing up, children often enjoy sleeping and watching cartoons as part of their weekend morning routine. It was not a reality for me. Instead, my mother dragged me to Chinese school.
When I was five years old, I was enrolled at the Institute of Chinese Language and Culture in Los Angeles, California. My course, section B, took place on Saturday morning.
For two hours, we worked closely with each other and with our teacher, Lao Shi, to learn traditional Mandarin. This ranged from reading, writing and speaking. I struggled with all three categories, especially on our cumulative ratings.
Trust me when I say there is no love lost between me and my old Lao Shi. We pushed ourselves to the limit every week. Her patience was dangerously drained when I couldn’t answer her questions or repeat a sentence without forgetting it halfway through.
At first, my face would turn red with frustration, but mostly with embarrassment. I started blaming myself for the wrong reasons. I thought “well, maybe I’m really stupid” and used that to justify my failing Saturday School. I stopped caring about success and embraced mediocrity with open arms.
My teacher’s attempts to snatch Chinese from me were useless. When she posted our quizzes or tests, everyone saw that my papers were soaked in red ink, indicating errors. Seeing them increased my hatred for the language and my upbringing.
Nevertheless, my teacher reminded his students “if you love Chinese, Chinese people will love you back”. Those words meant nothing to me until I got tired of being the “dumb” kid. My experience with learning Mandarin completely changed once I applied myself. It was amazing to answer questions quickly and have my tests come back with a bright smiley face.
Towards the end of my time at the institute, I realized that I was never stupid, only lazy. If Chinese was a race, I treated it as a sprint rather than a marathon. My teacher, my classmates and my family pushed me to see this in myself.
I graduated from the Institute of Chinese Language and Culture in May 2021. Today I am taking Chinese 102 with a new instructor and classmates who have different Mandarin backgrounds. However, I will always respect and cherish my first Lao Shi and Saturday morning B class.
SDSU offers several language courses throughout each semester, such as Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese. I implore students to take a language course at San Diego State University because you will gain valuable life skills and, most importantly, an amazing language-connected community.
Maitland Klingberg is a freshman majoring in finance. Follow her on Instagram @maitlland.