Dominique Biraga

China: My Inspiration

By Dominique Biraga

The musical and mesmerizing characteristics of Mandarin Chinese are why I have vacated a portion of my soul to accommodate this alluring language. I first discovered my love for Chinese during my junior year at The Gilbert School, which coincidentally was around the time said alma mater, with the boundless support of the Confucius Institute at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), started offering Mandarin to its students. The moment our principal announced that Mandarin Chinese would be introduced into our school’s language department, I knew I had to be one of the few students daring enough to take it. That initial, spontaneous decision paved the way for my overabundant mind to finally decide on what its owner would pursue in her future: becoming a Chinese teacher!

I have always been entranced by the world’s abundance of uniquely and continuously evolving languages.

I have always been entranced by the world’s abundance of uniquely and continuously evolving languages. Having previously learned Spanish and Latin, communicating daily in Polish with my family at home, and currently taking both Chinese and Japanese courses at none other than CCSU, the residence of Connecticut’s first and only Confucius Institute, I profess myself a language devotee and do so proudly. After all, how many people can genuinely say that they have had a close encounter with six distinct languages? Even some native English speakers admit to being unable to handle the language’s various complexities, and most dare not experiment with a second, threateningly harder language. My aspiration, however, is to become more than proficient in every language towards which I gravitate. By becoming a teacher fluent in Chinese who understands the needs and interests of my students, I wish to minimize the distance and misunderstandings between our two simultaneously prospering nations.

Although there have been several languages that sourced from me an utter fascination and the desire to persist in learning, Chinese has residency in the most secure depths of my heart and shall continue to henceforth. Had I not taken up Chinese four years ago, I would have never been able to establish the relationships that I have with hard-working, genuinely kind-hearted teachers, who dedicate their time and energy to tautening their students’ connection to the world’s most-spoken language; and with peers with whom I share a common interest or two. I also realize now, four years later, that, had I not fallen head over heels for this one linguistic miracle, today I would still be an immature, unmotivated adolescent more interested in selecting an ensemble for the following day than a solid career, that will ensure my survival long after graduation. Needless to say, the Mandarin facet of Chinese shaped my life into a meaningful cycle of inspiration, looking to Chinese whenever I need a pick-me-up or a friend that will not disappoint, and convincing myself that I have finally accomplished something worthy of both commendation and awe; mostly, I have been searching for approval from myself.

The Mandarin facet of Chinese shaped my life into a meaningful cycle of inspiration…

At the time of writing this personal reflection, I have recently received news of my advancing to the final round of the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition yet again, this time as a university student. The first time I submitted a speech was in January of 2016. Less than a month later, I learned that I had moved on to the finals, taking place at University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass) at the end of March that same year. I was overcome with various emotions, the most vivid being excitement and nervousness; the aforementioned pair has since returned. I am now prepared to compete in this renowned contest again, to give it my all, and to make my former and present teachers, my family, and, most importantly, myself proud. Not only is this contest a great opportunity for students to enhance their knowledge of Chinese and experience firsthand the timeless and captivating culture of China, it is also a way for them to form everlasting bonds with one another and discover previous unknowns about themselves, such as their desire to progress in their Chinese studies and become one of surprisingly few foreign Chinese-language teachers.

Participating in the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition, sponsored by UMass’ Confucius Institute, also earned me the ability to travel for the first time to China. All twenty-four finalists were invited to participate in a two-week tour of three of China’s most important cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. This tour was made possible by a language camp organized by the Confucius Institute, which likewise covered the cost of all the food, activities, and lodging we enjoyed when in China. Said trip took place two years ago in July, but I’m as grateful to CI now as I was then for ensuring that two-dozen teens relish a summer abundant in cultural revelations, exposures to the Chinese language, and moments to transform strangers into lifelong friends.

I’m eagerly awaiting my return to China, which I consider to be my second home. Participation in the version of the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition for university students rewards finalists with a scholarship to study for the month of July at Renmin University in Beijing, China. This opportunity to study abroad is also funded in full by the Confucius Institute, and I am determined to make the most of it. I plan to reunite with close friends galore and strengthen my way of speaking Chinese – that is, utter all with confidence as opposed to being fearful of making an ultimately meaningless mistake or mispronunciation, as I have been known to dread in the past. I have since discovered that such mistakes are welcome and I have come to embrace them; from them, I learn and become a better student, teacher, and version of my former self. I am also ready to explore more of this unique, enthralling land. China will always be the place I turn to when I need reassurance or enlightenment. It will be where I head when I am uncertain of the past but determined to commence the future. It will be where I decide which manner to spend the rest of my life. It will be where I open my arms to new ideas and opportunities. But most of all, it will be where I find myself.