Jerrad Solberg

Single Step to Continue a Legacy

By: Jerrad Solberg

Though China is a far-away place to many, it became close to me through an experience that challenged me and opened my eyes to new opportunities and perspectives. My initial interest in traveling abroad was motivated by a mentor of mine named Andrea, of Disability Services on campus at St. Cloud State University (SCSU). She encouraged me to take it on and break the barriers often placed on me with cerebral palsy. My strong interest in language and cultural studies had been exercised through school with French, so I felt encouraged to take on some Chinese, which is often regarded as the hardest language.

Another big influence in my life was my Grandma, who shared stories of visiting places like the Great Wall in 2013 at the age of 76. I had even seen some glass chopsticks at her house from China that she gifted me to keep as an heirloom to pass on. She sparked my desire to pursue adventures overseas as she did. However, financial concerns were hindering my capacity to travel. The solution to this problem was found when Andrea connected me with Kathy Johnson, director of the Confucius Institute at SCSU. She shared with me the potential to apply for a Hanban sponsored scholarship, which covered the gap and allowed me to realize my dream of going abroad to study in China for a two-week program in May of 2018.

Many cultural barriers surely existed, but the people I met helped me feel welcomed and were also interested in hearing my stories of life in America.

In preparing for my journey, I quickly found that some small, yet important, details still needed to be taken care of. Paperwork and packing are struggles we all have to face. The support of my father really helped with the passport information, but I gathered together all of my supplies myself. I was ready to take the jump, for as Laozi said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Leaving my father and mother at the airport was difficult, but they trusted the team of fellow students and faculty leaders I had with me, knowing that it would be a rewarding adventure to pay dividends in the future.

When I arrived in China, my senses were overwhelmed with an array of feelings in a place so different from home. For the first time, I was around so many people unlike me, with foods I had never tasted and speaking in a language truly foreign to my ears. I quickly found why so many say it is the hardest language to pick up. Many cultural barriers surely existed, but the people I met helped me feel welcomed and were also interested in hearing my stories of life in America. I genuinely felt like a celebrity and superstar, the many Chinese students we connected with also helping me get around and wanting to take pictures with me. There were a few particular challenges. The roads were sometimes rough to walk on with my walker and there were lots of steps everywhere we went, including on the University campuses, the Great Wall, and the Temple of Heaven. However, these obstacles did not stop me, and it even brought me closer to the student group around me; they were always lending a helping hand.

The most influential relationship I developed during my time there was with my host brother, Zhiguo or “Ziggy”, which is the English name I gave him. We connected when we were at Jilin Normal University in Siping for a few days of cultural activities and connecting with students. He did not know a lot of English, which made for some difficulties in communication but also drew us closer in teaching one another patience in understanding differences. I used whatever means I could to build bridges, whether it be a digital translator or my own form of body language. I immediately felt welcomed into their home with an assortment of gifts presented, including a calligraphy set, a special ginseng present, and lots of Chinese candy. The best experience we had together was preparing dumplings for a big family dinner. They made me feel like a royal king, and I was truly honored. It was a wonderful feast of so many flavors, with seaweed noodles and “baozi” among the many dishes served with the dumplings. They were also very encouraging of my efforts with the language, teaching me fruit names like xiangjiao, xigua, juzi, and pingguo, along with the basic dialogue. I could see the joy in their faces when I would express appreciation afterward with a heartfelt “xiexie”. It was a fulfilling time with them and very hard to leave.

One evening, our group went together to a basketball game on campus that was planned for us, but we did not expect what we found. It was a packed gym of students who were there to watch a championship game for their season, and we were to be part of the halftime show. Their teams were very talented, including my host brother Zhiguo who towered over most of us. Though our group was not too athletically inclined, we gathered together to take them on in a short scrimmage. Towards the end, my good friend called a time-out and ushered me into the game for the last highlight shot. I missed a couple of times but persevered to put it. Great cheers from the whole stadium of Chinese students erupted, and the players on both sides gave each other big high-fives. It was a special moment that I will never forget, and the small gifts I presented Zhiguo afterward, though meaningful, could not fully express my gratitude towards his hospitality and friendship.

Towards the end of our time in Siping, we had a great feast of lamb together, which included some dancing led by Zhiguo, who really invested himself in us and sought to learn from our group. It was a great time of celebration to culminate our short stay. Leaving them the last morning was not easy, but I have been able to stay in touch thanks to WeChat. I hope I will be able to reconnect with them someday soon.

I went to China not knowing what to expect, but what I found there were true, meaningful friendships with people I never thought I would be able to connect with.

On our last day in China, we also had the opportunity to visit Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village (SFCV) in Langfang, a small development area in Hebei not far from Beijing. Seeing many children there with a variety of disabilities but expressing great joy in interacting with us was powerful. We sang and danced together, and we even were able to see them practice their performance for Children’s Day. One particular child I met, Jason, had the same condition as me. It was great to shake hands and walk along together for a bit near the playground, though we could not understand one another through spoken language. I was told as I left that he expressed simple thanks for playing with him, which I responded in turn and was emotionally moved.

I went to China not knowing what to expect, but what I found there were true, meaningful friendships with people I never thought I would be able to connect with. I was surprised how open they were to interact with me, as we taught one another bits of our respective cultures. It was also a nice surprise to see at the start of this year that two students we met in Beijing at the Beijing Institute of Petrochemical and Technology (BIPT) had come over to SCSU for study abroad. We are able to continue building our friendship in people-to-people exchanges with mutual cultural understanding here. In the future, I hope it is possible to return to China for continued study to further challenge myself. With my major in cybersecurity, there is much potential in this area in regards to US-China relations, particularly if I were to connect with a government position in collaboration with China. Also, although my Grandma passed away this year, I know she would be proud of me, as she expressed to me in her final moments how she loved that I am willing to take on new adventures. Her lasting impact will continue with me as I see what is next as my China story carries on.

Jerrad Solberg
Confucius Institute at St. Cloud State Univerity
Junior, St. Cloud State University
Burnsville, Minnesota

Jerrad Solberg has cerebral palsy and is currently attending St Cloud State University where he is earning a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity.

Frida Niebla

From Hello to Nihao 从“Hello” 到“你好”

By: Frida Niebla

As a young freshman, I was hesitant on my intended career path as an International Business major, as I had never been anywhere outside the USA or my hometown. I became very excited about the opportunity to travel outside the states to attend CISDSU’s two-week summer program at East China Normal University (ECNU), a long-time partner university with SDSU in Shanghai, China. My professors for the program included CISDSU Director Dr. Lilly Cheng and Marketing Professor at SDSU, Dr. Louis Olson. Upon meeting them, I was captivated by their vast knowledge of China and its culture, which inspired me to gain culture and language insight on my own. While in Shanghai, I was able to visit some of the top scenic spots within the city. I was captivated by The Bund cruise that highlighted the Shanghai skyline during the vibrant night-time. I was told Shanghai’s bund is known for its bright lights and vast skyline that was non-existent only a decade before.

In addition, I attended the Sichuan Face Changing Opera Show hosted by Dr. Lilly Cheng at the well-known BaGuo BuYi restaurant. It was the first time I had experienced culturally rich entertainment while enjoying an exquisite Sichuan style cuisine. The two-week program had us visit Hangzhou West Lake, Shanghai World Expo Center, YuYuan Garden, Shanghai Park Hyatt among other places. The cultural experiences were the highlights of my trip, as I felt fully immersed within the culture through special site visits, food and language.

The biggest connection I made from my first and second trip to China was the re-encounter I had with a woman who makes Chinese pancakes, also known as 手抓饼 shou zhua bing, in front of ECNU. I introduced myself to her with my poor Chinese when I first met her in 2014. After returning to China for a full semester, I couldn’t help but notice that she recognized me after three years. She was impressed by the vast difference in my Chinese language skills from our first encounter. She introduced me to her little friend (小朋友xiao peng you) who lived a few doors down from her shop and would often visit her. As the semester progressed, I asked her little friend how she was doing as I walked past the small store. I even went ahead and taught her a few words in English. This humbling personal experience reminds me that language barriers are only temporary, and it is up to oneself to be courageous enough to break the barrier.

As an IB major, I was able to gain cultural competence through the diverse program and utilize my beginner Chinese language skills to communicate with natives. I felt like the program was an awakening for me in terms of becoming culturally diverse and striving to achieve success. Going back to Shanghai after the summer program was a good decision, as I had obtained a knowledge base about Shanghai. It was the perfect opportunity to travel around China through domestic airlines and the world-famous bullet trains. As a future SDSU alumni, I look back on my years at SDSU and reflect on the importance of my first trip to China. It has helped me share my travel experience and cultural competence during job interviews with well-known international companies and inspired me to travel more. It allowed me to gain confidence in my ability to learn a third language. I hope future Shanghai Summer program attendees get the opportunity to challenge themselves and gain a vast understanding of different cultures around the world. Thank you CISDSU for playing a key role in my success at SDSU.

Frida Niebla
Confucius Institute at San Diego State University
Project Manager
San Diego, California

Frida Niebla is a Project Manager at a digital marketing agency in San Diego, CA.

Before graduating from San Diego State University in 2017, Frida had the unique opportunity to visit China twice. Her first experience in China was possible through SDSU’s Confucius Institute, where she was able to participate in a two-week faculty-led program in Shanghai.

Two years later, Frida set out on a 6-month journey to study in Shanghai, China through her university’s study abroad program. Frida’s semester abroad allowed her to experience China even further by traveling to cities such as Beijing, Xi’an, Suzhou, Huangshan City and more.

Upon returning to the United States, Frida obtained a semester-long internship with CISDSU.

Over the years, Frida’s passion for travel and foreign languages has allowed her to pursue her trilingual abilities with Spanish, English and Mandarin Chinese. She has studied and passed HSK Level 3 and is currently pursuing HSK Level 4.

Carly O’Connell

Stoking the Fire

By: Carly O’Connell

Learning a language is hard enough, but maintaining it is another battle. Now that I no longer sit in class every day or live immersed in Chinese life, I feel my language ability shrinking like the dying embers of a fire left to burn itself out. Fortunately, the Confucius Institute has been there for me to stoke the fire and rekindle my love and knowledge of Chinese language and culture.

I have studied Chinese for 13 years, in five cities, and with supplemental help from three Confucius Institutes. My journey began in middle school, where my New Jersey public school amazingly offered Chinese as one of our six foreign language options. I chose Mandarin for the challenge it presented as the language most far-removed from my native English. I loved it from the first day, as each building block of new grammar or vocabulary opened more codes to crack and mysteries to explore. I continued through high school and carefully selected a university with a good Chinese program, The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI) opened in the spring of my freshman year. The WMCI was almost like a college friend to me as we grew and supported each other over the course of four years. From the very beginning, I was involved. I still remember waving to the college president while holding up the rear end of the dragon dance prop during the opening ceremony. A house tutor provided by the institute lived with us in the Chinese language dorm, hosting cooking classes, tea ceremonies, and conversation hours. Sophomore year, I participated in an immersion program in Beijing. When I came back, I took and passed the HSK 5 test through WMCI. I volunteered with them at every opportunity, including acting as a bilingual emcee for their big Chinese New Year gala when I was a junior. Finally, I joined the institute in an official capacity as an intern my senior year.

As a Confucius Institute intern, I gained some of my first journalistic experience reporting for the WMCI newsletter. My proofreading skills were carefully honed as all English documents produced by staff passed through me on their way out the door. I now make a living using these writing and editing skills as a communications professional. The absolute coolest task that I had as an intern was to personally greet a contingent of Shaolin Monks, whom WMCI had arranged to perform at the college!

Upon graduation, I fulfilled the purpose that it seemed I had been training for all these years: I moved to Changzhou, China, for a year to teach English while fully immersing myself in the country I had studied for so long. When I returned to America, I was not quite sure what my next step was. I moved to Washington, D.C., and tried out a variety of jobs, some of which utilized my Chinese language skills and some of which did not.

As a temporary assistant in George Washington University’s International Services Office, I was asked to give a short speech in Chinese at the international student orientation to help the largest contingent of foreign students feel welcome. Next, at a small law office specializing in immigration and international matters, I translated emails in legalese back and forth between my English-speaking colleague and a Chinese client. Let me tell you, that kept my mind sharp!

Eventually, I realized my passion was for bringing people of different cultures together, to open minds and spread tolerance. I wanted others to have the same opportunities I had to see that the world is a bigger place than our own hometowns, but that even people who live across the world have more in common with us than differences. Those realizations led me to the field of international education.

I started work at a higher education organization that allowed me to use and learn a lot of great skills, unfortunately none of which was Chinese. I felt like something was missing. An aspect of my life that had been with me since that first day of sixth grade was now gone, but I couldn’t let those years of study go to waste, like a muscle atrophied from lack of use.

Luckily for me, there are two wonderful Confucius Institutes right in the heart of D.C. I began attending a Chinese language “salon” at the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, a semi-monthly meetup for advanced speakers to read and discuss news articles and contemporary issues. For Chinese New Year last year, I attended an event at the George Washington University Confucius Institute, where I saw a truly epic traditional Chinese dance to the Game of Thrones theme song. I now participate in a biweekly Chinese Corner conversation hour at that same institute. I even ran into an old classmate from my William & Mary days during the first session.

I am eternally grateful to the William & Mary Confucius Institute, the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, and the George Washington University Confucius Institute for catching me when I was falling out of the habit of practicing Chinese and putting me back on my feet. Whenever I step into one of these buildings, I know I am about to feel my passion for the subject resurge and to meet others who share that passion with me. These institutes and their staff have been such an amazing resource for me over the past seven years. Wherever I go, I know the Confucius Institute has my back. That’s why I wrote this essay to say: 非常感谢你们!

Carly O’Connell
Confucius Institue at George Washington University and the College of William & Mary
Public Affairs Associate
Arlington, Virginia

Carly is a young professional working in higher education. She began studying Chinese in sixth grade and has made it a major part of her life ever since.

Carly attended the College of William & Mary where she double-majored in Chinese and Linguistics. As a student, she participated in a language immersion study abroad program in Beijing and also interned at her campus’s Confucius Institute.

After graduation, she moved to Changzhou, China, for a year to teach English and fully immerse herself in Chinese life. She now lives in Washington, DC, where she attends Chinese conversation practice at George Washington University’s Confucius Institute to keep up her skills.

In the future, she hopes to work in the field of international education, where her Chinese language skills would come in handy when assisting international students or facilitating study abroad programs, and where she can encourage others to pursue eye-opening cross-cultural experiences like those that shaped her own life.

Sharon Dang


By: Sharon Dang

When you walked home from Kate Sessions Elementary School at the age of eight, kindergarteners half your size would spit at you and call you “Chink!” You would chase them around the bush, but your physically awkward self wasn’t fast enough to catch them. And even if you did, then what?

In middle school, you were called “rice eyes” and to that you defended, “hamburger eyes.” And although rewarding yourself for being clever, the response failed to deliver much of a defensive punch.

Our culture, our very identity, is slowly being erased, silenced and lost with every generation that “assimilates.”

In high school, you were enjoying a hot summer day relaxing in the backyard pool of your parents’ house when the neighborhood kid that lived in the house across the empty field, exposed from the lack of landscaping, would yell “Gook, go home!” Go home to where? Your dad immigrated to America via Canada via Taishan, China, with $50 to his name, worked hard supporting his family, juggled five jobs and designed and constructed this American dream house. At the time, he had already built three custom houses in this neighborhood. Home was here, so you thought?

In your adult life, college and beyond, you were often asked, “Where did you come from?” California. You were born and raised in San Diego, California to be exact. But somehow this answer never satisfied them, to which they would ask, “Where did you really come from?” You resisted replying with the answer they were seeking, but at the same time struggled with your identity as an Asian person living in America.

Identity is complex. Identity politics even more complex. You see, you were born in San Diego to the parents of two Chinese immigrants from Taishan, China, yet you could hardly speak the dialect. The quest for identity as a Chinese person living in America begins with a connection to language. Language is not only a means of communication, but the vital pathway to connecting people and finding common ground. It’s the secret weapon to disrupt the patterns of racism. It cultivates and nurtures cultural literacy.

Your parents had honest and valid intentions for their children to try to assimilate to America easier by speaking primarily English at home, but in hindsight this was such a missed opportunity and so shortsighted. The very rich fabric of our cultural history and sense of belonging lies in being able to speak our native tongue. Taishanese, a dialect of Cantonese, is already in flux of extinction as it is supplanted by mainstream Cantonese and increasingly by Mandarin in larger communities worldwide. Our culture, our very identity, is slowly being erased, silenced and lost with every generation that “assimilates.”

A sense of identity and empowerment. A sense of belonging. A means to be seen, heard and connected to history. Cultural literacy. For these reasons, I chose to enroll my daughter Ava into Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School in San Diego, California, where she is taught Mandarin Chinese. For the past three years, she has also been exposed to the Six Ancient Arts of Confucianism, by means of a partnership with the Confucius Institute (CI), a non-profit educational organization in affiliation with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. The mission of the institute is to actively cultivate and facilitate the teaching of Chinese language and culture.

I am grateful for CI because my daughter has the chance to learn Mandarin Chinese at an early age. Her written and oral Chinese comprehension has already surpassed mine. Learning Chinese is no easy feat. I enrolled in Mandarin language classes when I attended UC Irvine as an undergraduate, pulling all-nighters and trying to cram for tests, only to receive grades that lowered my GPA. I enrolled in a Cantonese language class at a community college in San Francisco only to be belittled for my Taishanese accent. I spent the summer of 1995 in Beijing in an immersion language program, only to converse in English with the other participants as we were too distracted by all the tourist attractions and late-night drinking spots of bustling Beijing. Most recently, I was a student of CI at Barnard Elementary with other parents where I was overwhelmed by the difficult task of ever mastering such a hard language even on the most basic conversational level.

Four years ago, I took a trip to Beijing to visit my brother, his wife and their newborn baby. Gisa, my sister-in-law is German, but studied Chinese in college and lived and worked in China for many years. Her Chinese is as proficient as the locals in China. If it weren’t for Gisa, traveling with my daughter would have been limited and challenging. Signs were indiscernible to guide us to our destinations. Menus lacked pictures to give us clues as to what we could order. When we dined at local restaurants, the waitstaff looked at me to order, only to be taken by surprise when Gisa answered and spoke perfect Mandarin Chinese. Here, I was silenced by my English-only upbringing. As my daughter’s Chinese homework gets progressively more advanced, Gisa is often the one she calls for tutoring help. I tell this to my friend, and he laughs at the irony of it all. Ashamed, I make it a personal goal to try to learn Chinese once again.

On the flip side of that neighborhood kid who yelled “Gook, go home!” is my other neighbor Maurice Sasson, who is Baghdadi Jewish. He was born and grew up in Shanghai in the 1930s. Growing up in this neighborhood, trying to overcome feelings of defeat and subhuman self-worth from taking one too many verbal blows from the neighborhood kids, Maurice is one of the few people I connected with. He told me stories of how his father spoke 18 languages – four of which were different dialects of Chinese – and seamlessly traveled the world managing an import/export textile company. The stories were rich with detail, and I was inspired and jealous of his knowledge of languages, as it was his passport to transverse and connect with people from so many countries. Language is commerce. The opportunities are endless.

As Jeff Chang writes in his book “We Gon’ Be Alright”, that on matters of race, we live in a binary world. We are taught to think in binaries – zero or one, this or that. Black or White. There is no in-between. If you look Chinese, you surely must speak Chinese. So, walking down the street, surely you will respond to “Ni Hao?” Or you might be mistaken for Japanese and be greeted with “Konnichi Wa!” I can only hope to experience a future when the world of in-betweens gains more real estate, spanning continents and vast oceans of space where conversations happen because no one can assume what language you speak by the color of your skin or the shape of your eyes.

I recently heard NPR’s Invisiabilia podcast “A Very Offensive Rom-Com” and pondered upon my own shortcomings of stereotyping and unconsciously buying into our systemic binary world. In this episode, the journalist explores the complexity of racial preference hierarchies and their impact on the history and politics of Asian American sexuality. I am aware of my preference for Asian men partly because I made the assumption that there was commonality in our identity politics and shared upbringing with all the challenges of growing up Asian American. After far too many failed relationships – trying to cast and pigeon-hole them as comrades on the basis of their race – I have become part of the ruination. Today, I’m making a conscious effort to look beyond and open my mind to more authentic connections.

Language is not only a means of communication, but the vital pathway to connecting people and finding common ground.

Cultural illiteracy and monolingual education lead to racist actions. A case in point was a recent disconcerting incident that happened to Ava at the YMCA camp in San Diego. Another kid demanded that she “Go back to Japan!” Never mind the fact that she is actually half Chinese and half Korean. That was neither the point nor a means of defense and protest. I wished this girl had attended a school that exposed her to language and diversity like Barnard Elementary. Shortly after this exchange, Ava befriended two other Barnard Elementary students at this camp who quickly supported her during this incident. That day I was so grateful to be a part of the wonderful community of parents, staff and teachers at Barnard where families feel accepted and welcomed.

Language assumes no skin tone. Or at least it shouldn’t. Barnard Elementary has a diverse student population, comprising of different ethnicities and races. It’s a beautiful narrative to write that someday we will see all races and ethnicities speak perfect Chinese, spanning more real estate. We need more institutions like the Confucius Institute to help promote the learning of language – not just Chinese language – but languages in general. Language is connection and connections create a sense of belonging. Isn’t that what we all should be striving for?

Sharon Dang
Confucius Institute at San Diego State University
Real Estate Broker
San Diego, California

Sharon Dang is a Compass real estate broker who travels between California and New York, with her daughter Ava, who has been studying Chinese for the past seven years.

Sharon Dang

Sharon Dang

Sharon Dang
Confucius Institute at San Diego State University
Real Estate Broker
San Diego, California

Sharon Dang is a Compass real estate broker who travels between California and New York, with her daughter Ava, who has been studying Chinese for the past seven years.

Jaivi Chandola

How the Confucius Institute Changed My Life

By Jaivi Chandola

I started to learn Mandarin in kindergarten. I loved learning Mandarin, so my parents found the Confucius Institute (CI). I have been learning Mandarin at the CI for about four years. I have so much fun and learn so much!

When I first started, I learned how to use Mandarin to say numbers, colors, food, clothes, and so much more! Then, I learned how to write characters and radicals. I watched LittleFox videos too, which are short video stories in Mandarin, to help me learn children’s songs, Chinese vocabulary, and characters. I studied in the summer and during spring and winter breaks, too. I went on to Level 2! Now I learned parts of the house, body parts, food items, family, school and so on. I could also converse in Mandarin. 你好, 我叫Jaivi! 你叫什么名字? 我是美国人, 你呢? (Hello, I am Jaivi! What is your name? I am American. How about you?) Then, when I was 8, I reached Level 3! My Mandarin was really improving.

Without the CI, I would never have had such an amazing and supportive teacher or this learning community.

Christmas came and my teacher (Guo laoshi) gave me a present — a calligraphy set! Inside the golden case with intricately embroidered patterns were a carved black stick (墨), a shiny white bowl with blue patterns to hold water, a white and blue calligraphy brush holder, a gray stone plate with a lid to mix the ink in (砚), and four calligraphy brushes (笔) with handles the color of polished rosewood. Guo laoshi taught me how to mix the ink by grinding it (墨) onto the ink stone (砚) and pouring a little water in. Next, she gave me a packet with some crinkly yellow rice paper (纸), a mat with spiral patterns on it, an accordion-folded paper with lots of characters on it, and a felt pad (毛毡). She helped me write some characters on the paper which we put on top of the felt pad so that the ink would not bleed on the table. I think calligraphy is very beautiful and I will keep practicing to make mine better.

I could have said 谢谢 (thanks) forever! But what’s the point of doing all this at the CI? Without the CI, I would never have had such an amazing and supportive teacher or this learning community. I would never have borrowed books from the towering bookshelves at the CI. Being part of this community has led me to sing at the annual CI day/Moon Festival celebration and participate in lots of Chinese festivals. I have gone to the Lantern Festival and learned about many different traditions. I made a lucky knot, played 古筝 (guzheng, a Chinese zither), listened to Chinese music, and puzzled over riddles.

Of all the activities, the Moon Festival was the best. I wore a special red dress (the Chinese color of happiness) and wore gold shoes (the Chinese color of wealth). I tried different foods, listened to instruments and saw dances. I also spun a handkerchief on one finger. I could do it pretty well! Then, I had to go on stage. The music came on, and I started to sing. I made everyone laugh with my movements, and at the end, there was lots of applause! It was a very special experience and I would never have experienced it without the CI’s help.

Some people think Chinese is hard, but it’s really not, if you try. Learning with the CI is very fun, too! I am glad that I go to the CI and get to experience many Chinese traditions and festivals.

I’m glad that the CI taught me Chinese, because this summer, I am going to China! I’m excited to visit 长城 (the Great Wall) because I made a model of it! I want to use my Chinese to talk with the people there too.

谢谢你 (thank you), CI!

Jaivi Chandola
Confucius Institute at The University at Buffalo
Fourth Grader
Williamsville, New York

Jaivi Chandola is a nine-year-old girl finishing third grade at Maple West Elementary School in Williamsville, New York.

She is in the middle of her 4th year of studying Mandarin Chinese with the Confucius Institute at the University at Buffalo. She plans to become proficient in reading, speaking, and writing Mandarin and would like to collaborate with Chinese people to help make the world a better place. Also, she thinks it will help her when she becomes an astronaut and is doing a scientific collaboration with other astronauts who speak Chinese.

She likes writing poetry and this year her poem, “Colors”, was one of the winners of the annual Williamsville Poetry, Music, Art, and Dance Celebration. She also loves to read books as well as learning math, science, social studies, spelling, and writing.

Jaivi is a member of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and won High Honors in the 2017-18 CTY Talent Search. In her school, she is in the gifted and talented program for both math and English Language Arts and is an outstanding student. She makes comprehensive presentations to help her class learn about concepts like weather, Aborigines, etc.

When she grows up, she plans to be an astronaut, writer, and aerospace engineer. She is also passionate about the environment and plans to raise money to send to a wildlife organization and adopt a whale!

Michael Briggs

China: The Burial Place of My Misconceptions

By Michael Briggs

I grew up in Northern Virginia with 3 brothers and 5 sisters. I was number 6 in my family. Life was crazy in our small house. I had to share a room with my two older brothers and my younger brother. We just had enough room for two bunk beds, two dressers, and a small pathway between them.

Dinner was an interesting time for our family. There was the paradox of the limited and overflowing food. You had to come to the table early and grab the food fast or you wouldn’t get anything. But at the same time, you always seemed to take a little too much food and not be able to finish it all. In an attempt to get us to eat our food, my mother would often tell us “There are starving kids in China!” I never understood how gorging myself could possibly help any kid in China, but I did feel sorry for them, so I stuffed my face anyway.

My second youngest sister, Beth, has Downs Syndrome. Downs Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes developmental and intellectual delays. Beth would always keep us busy and on our toes. One time she wandered through our neighborhood alone and even walked into a neighbor’s house. While we were freaking out, wondering where Beth had gone, she was calmly eating cookies with Miss Dumphy. Though all my siblings have unique personalities and are a little strange, Beth was by far the most interesting. That is until Noah came…

Even though we came from very different backgrounds and had a language barrier between us, we were able to connect.

My parents decided to adopt Noah from China. This brought our family size to 12. Noah also had Downs Syndrome. He was full of energy and loved playing with guns, swords, but most importantly, animals. He had this amazing gift where he could change into any animal at will. We would be sitting at the dinner table and one moment Noah would be in human form and the next he would be a T-Rex trying to nibble my arm off. When Noah first came, he didn’t know any English and we didn’t know any Chinese, but we both learned the most important words fast. For us it was ‘bu yao’ and ‘guo lai’, for him it was ‘Brachiosaurus’ and ‘Siphonophora’.

Whenever my family went out to a restaurant together, we were quite a sight. Everyone seemed to be staring at us, especially Noah and Beth. I could tell that they pitied them. They simultaneously felt sorry and superior to them. I never understood why people thought this way. Yes, they had a disability. Yes, their intellectual and physical development was stunted, but most “normal” people are stressed all the time. Most normal people spend half their free time gossiping about people and the other half worrying what people are saying about them. Noah doesn’t have these problems. He does not hold grudges and he has pure joy over the simple things in life. Regardless, people kept their distance. Perhaps if they had actually talked with Noah and Beth, their misconceptions would not live for very long.

I was very close to Noah. When he first came, he could not pronounce my name well, so he called me “Mother”. The name stuck and till this day, he will often be found yelling “Mother!” whenever I come back from school.

As Noah’s ‘Mother’, I was determined to master the Chinese language and one day bring Noah back to his hometown to see his roots. I decided to study Chinese in college and enrolled in my first Chinese course as a freshman. I distinctly remember one of our first classes, the teacher was teaching us about tones and how one sound could have multiple meanings, depending on the tone used. We were given 4 ‘ma’s’ in 4 different tones. Our teacher asked us to read it and assured us that it made a sentence. What followed was a cacophony of young Americans yelling “ma!” at different times and in creative ways. Between tones and characters, I thought I would never be able to learn this language.

Despite my struggles, I pressed on. One day my Confucius Institute asked me to volunteer in the dragon dance for our school’s homecoming. I was stuck with the butt of the dragon and was tired from the running when it was all over. During this time I was given the opportunity to meet many Chinese students as well as the Chinese interns from the Confucius Institute. I became friends with the interns and was able to have conversation partners to improve my Chinese. This was the first step in overcoming the challenges of the Chinese language.

After increasing my connection with the Confucius Institute, by talking with the Chinese interns and attending events, I learned about the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition. I decided to apply and was accepted to give a speech and a cultural performance in Boston. The Confucius Institute paid for the trip and my hotel. This was my first time in Boston. After giving my speech and performing the song “Beijing huanying ni” I was offered a scholarship to study in Renmin University, a flight to China to attend a Social Work Conference at Beijing Normal University, and the opportunity to continue with the speech competition in China. Unfortunately, I could not do all three, so I decided to attend the conference and study for two months in China.

As I sat in the airplane waiting to take off and start my trip to China, I felt jittery. Whenever I fly, I am always amazed by the fact that a metal machine can float in the air and travel at such high speeds, but this time I had the added excitement of finally going to China. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew there were lots of starving kids who needed me to eat for them and that Chinese people made very good General Tso’s Chicken. I also knew that many older Chinese people were very traditional and not very accepting of foreigners. Besides those aspects, I didn’t know much else. When I arrived in China, I soon realized that what I “knew” about China was wrong.

I was met at the airport by a very bright graduate student from Beijing Normal University. She took me in a taxi to my dorm. On the way, I saw the huge skyscrapers and shopping malls. After arriving at the dorm, I was able to go shopping with some Chinese students. I saw tons of Chinese people not starving; in fact, they were buying designer clothing and famous brands, many of the same brands that I use. During lunch, I was amazed at what I could buy for just a few American dollars. I saw all the diversity in Chinese cuisine, none of which was what we typically see Chinese food as in America. I found out that most Chinese people don’t even know what General Tso’s Chicken is!

I like talking to people. I target the people that seem to have more time and aren’t running from one place to the next. I saw some older ladies playing cards in front of the apartment I was staying at. While I was nervous about joining a group of older women who were most likely more traditional, I decided to approach them and ask them how to play. Immediately, they asked me to sit down and attempted, as best they could, to explain the game to me. When they found out I was American, they mentioned Trump, and everyone laughed. Even though we came from very different backgrounds and had a language barrier between us, we were able to connect. Being able to connect and be accepted by these traditional, old grandmas made me change my views on traditional Chinese people. I saw them as loving and caring as opposed to hard and unaccepting of others.

While I was at Renmin University, I met an old grandpa who swept the streets of the University. It was hard for us to communicate because he spoke a dialect and was missing a few teeth. I felt sorry for him and would try to talk to him whenever I could. One day I was heading out of my dorm to grab lunch and he asked if I had eaten yet. I said no. He then, without hesitation, proceeded to take out all the money he had and extended it to me. This old man was watching out for me. He did not want a young student to go hungry in a faraway foreign land. I was touched by his gesture and instantly realized my fault. I was just like those people who stared at my family at the restaurants. I pitied him; I simultaneously felt sorry and superior to him. Sure, I had more teeth than him. Sure, I had more money than him. But did I have more love than him? Was I willing to offer all my money to make sure someone I barely knew would not go hungry?

I brought many misconceptions to China, but I did not bring them back.

I learned a lot while I was in China. I learned about the wide array of dishes and the diversity of people. I learned not to judge people groups by stereotypes and to experience cultures firsthand before making conclusions about them. I learned to not judge people by their outer condition but by their inner character. I brought many misconceptions to China, but I did not bring them back.

Near the end of my trip, I stood on the Great Wall. I looked across the mountains over China. My heart was filled with love for this country and its people. Just as when I came, I felt jittery with excitement about my future with China. I was not the same man as when I came to China. While most people treasure the Great Wall as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, I treasure the Great Wall as the place where my misconceptions are buried.

Michael Briggs
Confucius Institute at the College of William & Mary
Senior, College of William & Mary
Fairfax, Virginia

Michael Briggs is a rising Senior at the College of William and Mary, where he studies Mathematics and Data Science.

Michael is active on campus and involved in a variety of clubs on campus. This past year he was the Vice President of the Residence Hall Association, Service Chair for an anti-trafficking club on campus, a small group leader for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and a Resident Assistant for a freshman hall.

Michael is interested in almost everything, but he particularly likes people, long walks, and challenges.

He also likes to travel. Last summer, he studied at both Beijing Normal University and Renmin University. Two summers before, he biked 200 miles from Osaka to Hiroshima in Japan.

His family is huge. He has 5 sisters and 4 brothers, one of which is adopted from China.

Michael has been studying Chinese for two years and plans to study business in China after graduation.

Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe

My Confucius Family

By Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe

It all started years ago, when my six-year-old son, Alexander, announced that he was going to build a bridge to China with Lego blocks. Eight years later, he started to study Chinese in a Confucius Classroom at his Jesuit high school. Fate determined that I was going to become best friends with his Chinese teacher. I started to volunteer in the classroom and I soon found myself chaperoning forty-three high school kids on a two-week summer tour to China. This Hanban-sponsored trip, called the “Chinese Bridge Summer Camp for American High School Students,” was not only an eye-opener for me into an unknown world, but the kindling for my fire and passion for 中国 zhong guo and 中国人 zhong guo ren.

Never had I felt such a deep fascination, curiosity and eagerness to learn more about a country’s culture and history.

I had explored half the world prior to my first journey to China, but never had I felt such a deep fascination, curiosity, and eagerness to learn more about a country’s culture and history. Not only did I visit the highlights of Beijing, climb the Great Wall, observe the acrobats practicing for the Asian Olympics, wander around the Longman Caves, and attend an incredible outdoor musical performance in the mountains near Shaolin, but I also formed many friendships with my Chinese teachers during our stay at a provincial high school.

I then debated attending Chinese language classes at the Confucius Institute at George Mason University. After all, I was approaching half a century in age – the perfect time for my brain to entertain something totally new and challenging. From the roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, I had only mastered six. Learning Mandarin Chinese, the most widely-spoken language in the world, seemed to make sense. Or was I too old for such a difficult task? I decided to give it a try, determined to 学习普通话 xuexi putonghua, and signed up for my first Chinese language class at “CIMason”. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. After seven years, I am still attending Chinese classes on Thursdays. I know every single teacher who has taught there since 2009 and last summer, during another visit to China for a high-level delegation of cultural educators from Washington, DC, and Virginia, I met all of my instructors again. That night’s reunion, when all my previous teachers came to greet us after arriving in Beijing, brought tears to my eyes and made me realize how fond I had become of my Chinese friends.

Once I joined the Confucius family, my daily life seemed to always involve China, the Chinese culture, or the Chinese language in some way. Every book I suggested to my book club, fiction or non-fiction, was set in Asia. I decorated my entrance-way with Chinese artifacts, listened to music from Chinese CDs that I had brought back from my trips, and pulled out my 旗袍 qipao for every fancy event that I attended. I also decided to intertwine my cultural work at the German Goethe-Institut with my new knowledge of China. I became part of the “Trialogue” project and a poetry event named “Time Shadows,” in which we presented poems in German, English and Chinese. I became a moderator at the Euro-Asia film festivals in Washington, DC, where I discussed German and Chinese short films together with my Confucius colleagues and friends. I was invited to Michelle Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” talk, the 2012 National Chinese Language Conference in Washington, DC, cultural workshops to learn Chinese calligraphy and how to play mahjong, lessons on using “WeChat” to stay in touch with my Confucius friends, and even my teacher’s apartment to make 饺子 jiao zi.

However, these rich activities still left me yearning for something more. I decided to volunteer for CIMason. I joined the CI staff on “Chinese Culture Days” at local high schools, promoted CIMason in a video clip on their website, and participated in the “Traveling Trunk Chinese Artifact Kit Project.” I hosted several teachers at my house, attended memorable visits with Madame Xu Lin, former Director General of Hanban, and Madame Yan Junqi, helped to organize the “China in my Eyes” Photography Exhibitions in 2013, and, recently, curated the revival of the “China in my Eyes” exhibit in Alexandria, VA. As a supporter of CIMason, I found myself serving as the bridge connecting China and the USA, exposing Chinese culture to wide audiences, and teaching people the value other cultures can bring to their lives. I am the product of my son’s childhood wish to build a bridge to China.

After my second Chinese Bridge summer study trip to China in 2011, my whole family started to study Chinese. My daughter joined in on our family’s fascination with China and enrolled in Chinese classes at her local high school and again in college. Following Confucius’ motto, “Never be tired of learning or teaching others,” I convinced my husband to join us and take Chinese lessons and take a Chinese business class at CIMason. A few weeks later, reporters from Xinhua/New China News Agency requested a family interview to talk about our family’s unusual passion and interest for the Chinese language and culture. Shortly afterwards, our son embarked on another journey to China on a scholarship from George Mason University. He has now been to Asia seven times and he has declared China his favorite destination.

My dream to enjoy a symphony of cultures, while promoting and celebrating cultural diversity, has been fulfilled.

As you can see, our story is a story of chain reactions. None of this would have ever happened had it not been for the opening of a Confucius Classroom at Gonzaga High School. This triggered one event after another. Each of us became an active participant in the complex world of cultural diplomacy. As the U.S. Ambassador to Russia said, “Culture does things that traditional diplomacy can’t.” My academic background of cultural studies and foreign languages allowed me to participate in many cultural exchange programs where I learned the value in promoting cross-cultural understanding and dispelling stereotypes. My dream to enjoy a symphony of cultures, while promoting and celebrating cultural diversity, has been fulfilled through this connection with my Confucius family. It has been exactly eight years since our two worlds began to merge. Since 8, or 八ba, is a lucky number in the Chinese culture, I conclude my eight years of study is a good sign that I will be fortunate in the future and have many more opportunities to traverse the “bridge” of my son’s dream. My bridge was not built by Legos but with the love of our CI family, my work as a private American and German cultural ambassador, and the time I gave to contribute to the Confucius Institute’s mission of promoting cultural understanding and building pivotal friendships.

Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe


Confucius Institute at George Mason University
Foreign Language Professor | Washington, DC

Dr. Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe has been a foreign language professor for more than two decades. She received her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Teaching from the University of Würzburg, Germany, in 1988, and is currently a German Language Proficiency Examiner at the Goethe-Institut Washington. She has traveled to all seven continents. After her first trip to China in 2010, Dr. Hoffarth-Zelloe decided to study Chinese (Mandarin) as her seventh foreign language at the Confucius Institute at George Mason University.

Since then, she has dedicated much of her time to the Institute, facilitating positive dialogue between China and the United States. Dr. Hoffarth-Zelloe also works as a cross-cultural outreach consultant and is incredibly passionate about cultural exchange between people of different countries.

Douglas McDonald

Language of the Heart

By Douglas McDonald

A very old proverb teaches: “The mouth speaks what is in the heart.” My interpretation of that proverb is that language expresses the soul and spirit of a people. For that reason, I have always had a special inclination for languages. I have studied ancient Greek and Latin; modern French and German; I have had the opportunity to learn Arabic while teaching university students in Baghdad, Iraq. Through these experiences, I have come to appreciate how a culture and its people open up when you understand its language. For me, Chinese has been the pinnacle of language learning. It is ancient, vividly expressive, and spoken by more than one and one-half billion people.

I have come to appreciate how a culture and its people open up when you understand its language.

My first contact with the Confucius Institute was somewhat tangential. I took a two-part course through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, taught by Wanli Hu, Ph.D., comparing Massachusetts as the cradle of American values, education, and skills with Xi’an, the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Through Dr. Hu, I learned not only about the great history of Chinese culture, but also that the Confucius Institute had courses for people interested in learning the Chinese language.

At first, I was excited about the prospect; then I considered the challenge and commitment that was necessary to learn a new language and whether I was really up to the task. My actual engagement with the Confucius Institute began in January 2018.

The Confucius Institute offers a welcoming and supportive introduction to China, its history, culture, traditions, and language. My teacher, Lu Zhiying, (“Lu Lāoshì” as I call her,) has been enthusiastic, encouraging, and very patient. She has high expectations for my ability to learn Mandarin at the highest level, including learning Chinese characters.

Lu Zhiying has broadened my involvement in the Confucius Institute and Chinese culture. After just one month as a student, she asked me to help out with the Institute’s upcoming New Year celebration taking place at UMass Boston. I am often glad to help out setting up chairs, posting signs, handing out flyers, etc. “I want you to teach people who come to the celebration to make Chinese knots,” Lu Laoshi said. “And bring your wife, Linda.” Of, course I didn’t know what a Chinese knot was, nor how to make one! She showed me how to make one, gave me some threads, and said, “Practice.”

Needless to say, when the New Year celebration took place two weeks later, dozens and dozens of people, as young as six-years-old, and many much older than that became enthusiastic learners and owners of New Year good luck knots.

The Confucius Institute offers a welcoming and supportive introduction to China, its history, culture, traditions, and language.

The celebration program was so much more. It opened my eyes to the vast network of programs and participants in the Greater Boston area supported by the Confucius Institute. I met Grade 6 students who, like me, were beginning to study Mandarin. Since I had been a Chinese-language learner for just four weeks, I felt emboldened to utter such great phrases as “Ní hao”, “Ní hao ma?”, and “xièxie”!

During the program, I saw a CI student who had only nine classes stand on stage in front of nearly two hundred people, and recite a simple poem in Mandarin before a largely Chinese audience. Two other CI students performed a song. What encouragement and motivation!

The program put on that day by the Confucius Institute was a panoply of Chinese poetry, dance, music, and culture performed by students and professionals from many communities and nationalities celebrating Chinese culture and civilization.
Some people say the time to learn a language is when you are young. There is certainly merit to that statement, and I certainly encourage learning a language early. But I am seventy-five years old, and regrettably, cannot turn back the hands of time. However, when I knocked on the door of the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston and said I was interested in learning Chinese, no one said: “You’re too old,” but only “When would you like to start?”

When I said I was interested in learning Chinese, no one said: “You’re too old,” but only “When would you like to start?”

While my goals and story are personal, I do believe that my example will encourage others to begin the process of exploring a culture that is the four-thousand-year foundation of 1.5 billion people in today’s world, and the world of the future. I live in a community that has a rapidly growing Chinese population, so there is increasing opportunity to use my new language skill, and hopefully, our new neighbors will feel more welcomed to know that a person not of their culture appreciates them enough to learn and cherish its language. The language of the Confucius Institute is “Welcome!”

Douglas McDonald


Confucius Institute at UMass Boston
Retired Administrative Judge | Boston, Massachusetts

Douglas McDonald is a retired administrative judge from Boston, MA who has recently joined the Confucius Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to tackle yet another language.

A life-long polyglot, Doug is proficient in several languages, including Latin, Greek, French, and German. For two years he lived in Baghdad, Iraq, where he taught sociology at Al-Hikma University, and studied Arabic. Doug believes that learning a language is critical to understanding a culture. He has been heavily involved in his Confucius Institute, attending the 2018 National Chinese Language Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, and several other local CI initiatives. Learning and becoming proficient in Mandarin has been a lifelong ambition for Doug, and the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston is providing a solid foundation.

Trinity Lewis

How Chinese Changed My Life

By Trinity Lewis

Before I tell a story about the present, I should start by explaining what happened in the past. I have what the doctors and scientists call “dyslexia.” It makes it hard for me to learn, and it makes it hard to memorize basic everyday words and numbers. I know this does not sound like it fits into a story about Chinese, but just stay with me. I have two siblings; one of them is my older brother, Mark. He excels in everything he does no matter how new or complicated it is to him. Now, I also have a younger sister; she is a national volleyball player who is getting scouted by all kinds of different teams. After hearing all of that, I hope you can see the story is going to be a little emotional from here on out.

Dyslexia makes it hard for me to learn, and it makes it hard to memorize basic everyday words and numbers.

It was my first day of freshmen year, and I was walking to my second-hour class, Chinese. For most schools, their teachers would be there to greet the students on the first day of school. However, in our school, that was not the case. We walked into class to find a television sitting in the middle of the room. We all sat down with a look of curiosity and deliberated over what was going to happen. Five minutes after the bell rang, the teacher got up and told us our teacher was now ready for us and went down to take the remote. We were all looking around at each other and trying to figure out what was going on. When he turned on the television, a face popped up like it does in the movies. There was a girl on the other side facing us with a straight face who said, “Today I am going to give you all new names for this class.” We were all excited to find out what our names were going to be, and she went through the list one by one telling us what our names were and what they meant. When she got to me, she told me my name was TiNe and went on to say that my name had no meaning; it was just the way my name would sound in Chinese. We went through the school year learning only the pinyin of Chinese and never really seeing the characters to the words we were learning. We played all sorts of games to try and learn the language, but it never really connected to us as time went by. It was like we weren’t seeing the real China, and we were just there to get our class credit and go, even though some of us really wanted to learn Chinese.

The school year was closing to an end, and our teacher told us that she would not be coming back next year. She said our new teacher was coming from China! For me, this was a shock because I did not join Chinese to just learn some pinyin and receive class credit. I was there because I knew I was never going to understand English, even if it was my own language. I had a chance with Chinese to really understand a language and thrive. I was told I was good at grammar and sentence structure, I was so happy to get commended for it. I had never been told in any of my English classes, or other classes, that I was good at English. Though in my Chinese classes, my teacher was so surprised at how well I was getting the language. I was starting to regain hope for myself that I had lost way back in elementary school and this hope I found in Chinese.

Now, let us fast forward to my sophomore year, I walked into my new Chinese class thinking that we were going to have another teacher through the television but was startled to see a teacher come out and say 你好 to me. I was so startled she laughed at me and said, “Hello? I said hello just now.” I could feel from that point on we were going to have a great year. After the first month, we started to ask her questions about how she got here and why she wanted to come. She said, “I came through the Confucius Institute, and I wanted to learn better English.” We asked her more and more questions, overwhelming her to the point she had to tell us to give her a break. For me, it is and was hard to trust teachers because of how badly I have been treated by them. I had a teacher in fourth grade try to bid me off to a kindergarten teacher because she didn’t want to teach me any longer. I get told by teachers now that everything I am and everything I can do is not because of my own effort, it’s because of my parents. My mom works at my school, so the teachers here think that I just use her to get away with whatever they think I could do. I have been told by my teachers that they wish I was a little more like my brother in my grades and outstanding ability. This teacher, however, has never treated me with any distance and never thought that I only got here because of my mom. She gave me a new Chinese name that she thought really fits me in my life 李锐 lǐ ruì.

I knew I was never going to understand English, even if it was my own language. I had a chance with Chinese…

The next day I went in and asked her whether we could get pen pals from China. She did not know what they were at first, but when we explained it to her, she said, “Maybe,” which in any kid’s head means “No” more than it will ever mean “Yes.” I am very hard to turn away though, I asked her, again and again, every day until one day she said, “I will talk about it today in class.” We were all so excited to find out that we were going to get a pen pal and we could not wait to get our first letter from them. It was about five days after she told us about the letters that she came into our class and said, “I have your pen pal letters.” At the time, we were not assigned a person, and we were given a person as we walked in. My teacher stopped me as I was walking in; she said, “I know you are very excited about pen pals, so I wanted to give you two of them.” I was so happy; I jumped and hugged her and asked, “Who are my pen pals?” She gave me two people, explaining, “You get a girl and a boy to write to, so you get two different points of views on China.” I wanted more pen pals because I love talking to people and I wanted to know more about a country that I had only heard speculations about before I entered the class. When I received the letters and opened them I was surprised at how sloppy their writing was. When I showed my teacher, she looked at them, laughed and said, “They wrote in cursive, I guess they forgot that you are a second-year Chinese student.” We then went through them and I realized these students were living lives so much like mine. Moreover, they were having fun at school all day. I had heard that in China people were not happy and were suffering because of the President there, but in these letters, they seemed to be living full and happy lives without a care in the world.

They gave me hope that I can learn this language and go there to have a great time and a great life. The people who are teaching me Chinese never told me that I was just lucky to get my grade in their class. Here, I have people who think I am so much more than just a dyslexic person. I now want to come to school more because of how I am getting treated by them. Chinese changed my life because it gave me hope that I had lost so long ago. People from China that are teaching me Chinese are so much more than teachers – they are friends that I will always remember my adventures, as I grow and learn more in my life.

Trinity Lewis


Confucius Institute at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
High School Junior | Omaha, Nebraska

Trinity Lewis, 16 years old, attends Omaha Northwest High Magnet School.

She has studied and admired Chinese culture for most of her life and seeks to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese before her scheduled trip to China next year with the Confucius Institute at The University of Nebraska. Trinity is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, practicing the art since she was 6 years old. She is also an accomplished clarinet player, performing with many honor bands and receiving multiple All-City awards. Trinity is president of her high school DECA club and is a candidate for state leadership. She is a member of the student council as we as a member of the National Honor Society. Recently, Trinity was accepted into the world-recognized Henry Dorley Zoo Academy, where she will attend classes and work hand-in-hand with zoo officials to protect and preserve endangered wildlife. She plans to use the years of wildlife training to assist Chinese zoos and wildlife preserves in finding a way to save species, such as the Leaf Turtle, from extinction.