Deja Watkins


By Deja Watkins

I have been learning Chinese for a little over five years now. I started learning Chinese when I first entered Enloe High School and continued learning Chinese there until I graduated. I continued to take Chinese classes at my current university. I like learning about the cultures of others, and I wanted to learn about Chinese culture. Because of this interest, I was really excited to find out that the high school I was going to attend offered Chinese. It was through my Chinese class at Enloe that I learned about the Confucius Institute. There were resources and events in class that was provided by the Confucius Institute at North Carolina State University. For example, Chinese students from NC State who came by my high school classroom to give a presentation on China and their experiences being in the United States. I was able to speak with a couple of the students and learn more about them. I also participated in the Chinese club that was offered at Enloe. Through the Chinese club, and in class, I participated in various events and festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival. There were even days where my teacher brought in Chinese food for the class to try. I even began to participate in the annual Chinese New Year Festival in Raleigh, where I saw various cultural performances and many exhibits.

Through the Confucius Classroom at Enloe, I was able to travel to Troy University to participate in the StarTalk program. I participated in the StarTalk program for two summers and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the program. Through this, I was able to improve my Chinese speaking skills and learn more about Chinese culture. For example, I learned how to lion dance, dragon dance, and umbrella dance. I even learned how to do a little bit of Taiji. I met other students from different parts of the United States who had the same interest in Chinese as I did, which really helped me to learn Chinese culture and language skills that I did not know before. It was wonderful to even be able to learn other cultural activities from my teachers, such as calligraphy and Chinese chess. The Cultural Presentation, or Fashion Show, at the end of the program, was really interesting as everyone dressed up as one of the many minorities in China. Before then I had only heard of a few minorities such as Tibetan and Manchu, but during I learned about many others.

The Enloe Confucius Classroom, of the NCSU Confucius Institute, has changed my life in many ways. Before learning Chinese with the Confucius Classroom at Enloe, I only had knowledge about American culture. The Confucius Classroom has also helped me to prepare for college. When I entered college, I was able to connect with the Confucius Institute at my school and continue to build my knowledge of Chinese language and culture. The Confucius Classroom truly helped me start my education of Chinese culture and language as well as provided me resources as to what I can do to improve my abilities. I have connected with many people, including Chinese teachers and friends, whom I still continue to stay in touch with long after we parted ways to return back to our respective homes. I have met so many kind people who have been more than helpful and patient in teaching me Chinese. I honestly could not have asked for a better experience. Everyone I have met has been very respectful and eager to aid me in any way possible throughout my entire experience in learning Chinese. I happily look forward to improving my fluency in Chinese, participating in more activities and events, and continuing to be part of the Confucius Institute.

David Cole

More Similar than Different

By David Cole

I am not a student of language, nor am I particularly adept at comprehending or learning foreign languages. I am, however, an ardent student of culture and art. It was through a humanities-based fellowship at the University of Kentucky that I was introduced to our Confucius Institute and the opportunity to undertake a learning experience in Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing.

As an American, my knowledge of Chinese art and literature is woefully underdeveloped. For years I have been exposed to the stories of the great masters in the European and American traditions, but never have I encountered Chinese writing outside of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West. I understand that this is akin to someone being unfamiliar with European writing outside of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and am thankful that I’ve been able to begin remedying my situation. During my visit to China, I was introduced to the work of Lu Xun and Bei Dao, writers I am looking forward to pursuing study of as I seek to improve my literacy of writers and poets outside of the American canon.

Though this brief foray into the incredibly deep cultural pool that is Chinese literature stands out as a course to follow in my coming days, I must also give credence to the ways in which the trip shaped me during its course.

I had never been outside of my home country before traveling to China but had long harbored dreams of globetrotting. Arriving in China was tiring and I was completely awash in culture shock. I’d expected differences, of course, but being on the opposite side of the globe opened my eyes to not just the range of differences between Chinese culture and my own, but the striking similarities.

Those similarities came, without fail, through my interactions with people.

An astonishing number of people I interacted with in China proved positive in their spirit and livelihood. Never have I found myself surrounded by people who I couldn’t verbally understand, but wholeheartedly felt a connection towards.

Here is an anecdote to prove my point:

When my group made it to the City Wall in Xi’an, many people were excited by the chance to ride around its perimeter on bikes. However, I come from an area in which biking is uncommon due to the terrain, therefore, I had never learned to ride one myself. Feeling adventurous, I rented one anyway and received some beginner’s tips from two of my fellows. However, when they took off on their own and I was left to stutter about on my bike as if I were a toddler. As I experienced this embarrassment, a Chinese family of four approached me and began to demonstrate to me, through gestures and sound effects, the proper way to ride. My trouble continued, but their kindness was powerful. In time, another couple joined us and I found myself surrounded by six locals all trying to teach me how this whole biking thing worked.

I still don’t know how to ride a bike, but that period of time atop the old wall in Xi’an gave me something more valuable than a timeless skill: a true sense of the universal nature of humanity. I could not previously imagine the strength of human kinship, even in the face of a daunting language barrier, before the Confucius Institute sent me to China. For the opportunity to witness firsthand the indomitable strength of personal bonds across cultures, I am certainly indebted and immensely thankful.

Amelia AiYan Engstrom

My Mandarin Journey

By Amelia AiYan Engstrom

I was born in Fuling, China. Chinese was the only language I knew. Twelve months after I was born, I was adopted by two Americans who spoke a language that was foreign. They brought me back to America where their language became familiar to me.

Four years later, I was a timid kindergartener sitting at a small desk waiting patiently for class to start. I was unaware that the class I was about to attend would be life-changing. As the teacher began to speak, I started to hear words that were alien, but beautiful. It was like hearing spoken music. I soon found out that those strange words are part of a language called Mandarin Chinese. That was the spark that ignited the blazing passion I have for Chinese. As time went on, I learned more about the language itself as well as Chinese culture.

I vividly remember my first Moon Festival. I sat on a blanket on the wet grass in my mother’s lap surrounded by my family and many school friends. The erhu was being played in the background as we all ate mooncakes, watched the moon rise, and enjoyed each other’s presence. Children danced around with glow sticks and waved homemade lanterns. The night would have been pitch black if not for the shining beacon that was the moon. My kindergarten class had just finished performing a song about the Moon Festival that was composed by our teacher. That night was not just about lanterns and festivities, but about the importance of family.

Since I attended a Mandarin immersion program in a Confucius Classroom, I had the opportunity to increase my skills and knowledge every day. I looked forward to learning more about Chinese culture. My favorite parts were baking mooncakes, making dumplings, and folding origami.

When I was in third grade, our class wanted to do something big for Chinese New Year. We decided to do a presentation in front of the whole school. It would have music, dancing, and, most importantly, dragons! There would be two different dragons, one for each side of the auditorium. They would start in the very back row and snake their way through the aisles up onto the stage. I was a shy, quiet kid, but I was chosen to be the head of the dragon. The head of the dragon needs to be exciting; the performer shakes the head in people’s faces and moves up and down. The head leads the rest of the body. This was an experience of a lifetime. I had a blast learning how to move the dragon around. Not only did I have fun and learn more about Chinese culture, but it also forced me to leave my comfort zone and be a leader.

I switched to a different school for junior high and with the new school came a new Confucius Classroom. My new teacher took us to Chinatown in San Francisco for the annual New Year’s Parade. It was amazing to experience the culture in person instead of from a textbook. We were sent into Chinatown with a list of things to find for a scavenger hunt. This gave us a reason to talk to the street shop owners and use our language skills. The town was decorated festively with lanterns and even a statue of Monkey King (孙悟空). I especially liked throwing poppers on the ground and surprising everyone around me. We also toured the Asian Art Museum and expanded our knowledge of Chinese art. When it came time for the parade, my classmates and I sat enthusiastically on the edge of the sidewalk munching on goodies we had just bought in Chinatown. The parade was great! All the floats were lavishly adorned, the bands played fun songs, and the firecrackers were a bundle of exhilaration. Not only has Chinese class been my passion, but it has also opened doors to new adventures.

As time went on, my Chinese journey began to feel like a roller coaster. Sometimes I would be at the peak, fully immersed in the culture and loving life. I would race to class ready to learn about the culture of my past. Other times I would be at the bottom of a hill. I would be mad at my parents for making me take such a difficult language. But, at the end of the day, I have always come back around. Mandarin has been a part of my life for so long that I am not sure what I would do without it. It has not only taught me about other cultures but also about core values like perseverance, hard work, and leadership. Mandarin Chinese has connected me with my past, improved my present, and paved the way for my future.



Ose Arheghan

Thank you, Confucius

By Ose Arheghan

In the last five years, I have moved three times, been in three different schools and two different school districts but throughout all of these changes, my study of Chinese has remained constant. In every Chinese class I have been in, no matter the district, the school or the teacher, the Confucius Institute’s Confucius Festival has been considered to be a beneficial experience for the students and for that, I am thankful. I performed with my class for the first time two years ago but this year, I did that and more.

As a junior in Mandarin IV, my class has the highest level of proficiency in the school. Because of this, we were responsible for producing our school’s performance for the festival. My teacher gave me the privilege of coming up with the concept and theme, along with directing our play. I was extremely excited because the Confucius Festival is how all the Chinese classes in the Cleveland area see what other students are learning and it gave my Chinese-learning friends from other schools the opportunity to see my work on stage. Because my classmates and I collectively love the music from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I decided we would recreate that moment on stage. We all represented different athletes and performed a closing ceremony skit where students gave speeches, showed off Olympic medals, sang and danced— all in Chinese.

When it got to the day of the performance, we were all excited, and nervous. None of us are actors (to be honest, we’re a bunch of nerds) but we all enjoy leaving our comfort zones each year for the festival performance. I was really happy because I got to learn more about my peers and highlight everyone’s strengths. The strong speakers delivered short monologues, the more artistically inclined students did a dance and the tech-savvy students made a PowerPoint which we played in the background. Our class really bonded over the whole experience and I get to say that I had a part in making it happen.

Recently, we had exchange students visit from our sister school in Hebei and my teacher showed them our Confucius Festival performance. Some of the students came up to me after watching my introduction and told me my Chinese speaking was very good. I was so excited to see that they enjoyed our performance because I felt like as a class, we put on a show that really displayed Chinese culture and our speaking abilities.

I remember when I was 11 years old at my first Confucius Festival and I did not have the language proficiency to comprehend most of the dialogue and jokes or the cultural awareness to recognize any of the stories and songs. I can look back on that moment and compare it to now as I perform skits in Mandarin, talk to Chinese students about jokes that do not quite translate to English and talk to my friends about our favorite Chinese songs and foods. Each October it is nice to go down to Cleveland State and see how much more information I can ascertain. I was excited this year because I recognized a lot of the stories the elementary students acted out. Most notably, a group of children acted out the race to determine the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and I remember translating that story into English in my class.

Next year, my senior year will be my final Confucius Festival before I go off to university. I am excited to be able to end my secondary school Chinese learning experience at the same event where I began. When I go to university I hope to study International Relations and plan to continue learning Mandarin. I believe that my middle school and high school experience as a part of a Confucius Classroom will give me an advantage in my language acquisition.