Ava Lee

Learning Chinese opened up my world

By: Ava Lee

Hi, my name is Ava and I am 9 years oldI have been learning Chinese since Kindergarten.   

At Barnard Elementary, a CI classroom school, I learned Chinese and calligraphy, Kung Fu, how to use an Abacus, and the fan dance. There is so much more to learn about Chinese culture.  

Learning Chinese has opened up my mind. I wish other people would have a chance to learn Chinese too because then there wouldn’t be so much racism. 

Certain politicians caused racism to grow by saying that Covid was caused by Asians. They said Covid was a “Kungflu.” Since COVID started, there have been a lot of crimes against Asian Americans. 

This isn’t new. I also learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act that happened. This happened a long time ago and it was a law that prohibited the Chinese from immigrating to America for 61 years. Chinese helped build the railroad and were contributing members of society, yet they were banned from coming to America. The act was very unconstitutional and It was very racist.  

Learning Chinese makes people more aware and less racist. Some people may think that learning Chinese is too difficult or a waste of time, but I feel it is not. When someone learns a new language, they get to learn a new culture. It opens up your whole world and outlook. It’s a new world and different culture. Learning Chinese is very different than English in that there are characters for every word. It is like drawing pictures and I am fascinated by learning new characters. 

The last trip I took before the pandemic started, was a trip to China. I went with my mom on a CI-sponsored trip to Beijing and Changsha. It was so fun! I got to meet a host family and they taught me how to make dumplings! They also took me to a mall and it was a little different from my malls in New York. They have so many different types of toys and fashion.  

We also went to visit a high school and it was very inspiring. It was a big school and it seems like they work a lot harder than us. They have school on Saturdays and their school is from 8-6 pm.  

We also went to art museums and I saw a very old mummy. The buildings are so interesting too. There is so much history in China. We also went to an island and saw a huge statue of Mao’s head.  

I got to climb the Great Wall of China and it was very tiring. The view was so amazing but it was worth the hike.  

We went to a food alley in Changsha and there were so many types of foods, even chocolate-covered bugs which you would never see in America. I enjoyed this shop called “Snack is too busy.” I wanted to try everything and it was delicious. 

When I was on this trip, I made friends with a photographer named Wang Sai. He didn’t speak very much English so I had to speak in Chinese. I wish my Chinese was better so that I could talk to him more. Learning Chinese allows people to make friends more easily because they can speak the same language.  

Thank you, CI for the opportunity to learn Chinese as it has opened up my world




Ava Lee

Ava Lee was born in San Diego, California and attended Barnard Elementary, a CI classroom sponsored by SDSU. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her mom and two cats.  Ava will be entering 5th grade in the fall at PS 184 Shuang Wen elementary, a dual language Chinese/ English school. She enjoys making art, swimming, and going to museums.  




Thalia Blankson

Motivation to Study Mandarin

By: Thalia Blankson 


My motivation to learn Mandarin started when I was eleven years old in fourth grade. There were some Chinese students in my class and I heard them speaking and loved the sound of the language. Soon afterwards, I fell in love with the Chinese culture and language. I began studying Mandarin by watching youtube videos until I started college at the University of Albany then I took Mandarin classes every semester for two years and then paid for a private tutor while in college. I majored in Chinese studies and changed it to Political Science due to my interest in political science to study Chinese history and politics. My Professors are either Chinese or have studied in China for several years. While studying, I realize now that I must learn the Mandarin language to understand the relationship between the United States and China. As a student, I find myself constantly engaged with the intersection of politics, and economics and I will continue this route throughout my career.

I am currently pursuing a double major in Political Science and History. I have also been involved with the First Year Leadership program’s service and leadership organizations, the 2020 SUNY SAIL Leadership program, and participated in conferences as part of my university experience. When Covid19 is over, I hope to study abroad in Beijing and continue learning the Chinese culture and language. Throughout my college studies, I have written several research papers on China, the United States, and Pakistan, focused on law, human rights and cultural studies, and negotiation between different nations. I love studying economics and politics.

My career vision is to be a political analyst one day and use my observation and experience to understand the complex relationship between the Chinese, Pakistan, and the United States. I also want to focus on the Chinese Communist Party and its politics. As my understanding grows in depth and mastery, my passion has always been to learn about politics and teach future generations its importance and how it intertwines with history. Pursuing such a career will allow me to improve the world community by helping people understand one another. After graduating in May, I would like to pursue my Master’s degree in International relations and eventually get my PhD later on.


Thalia Blankson

Thalia Blankson is an Arizona State University online, where she studies international Affairs and Leadership. she began studying Chinese on her own and then started taking classes at her undergraduate institute University of Albany and later joining the Confucius Institutes. She will continue learning Chinese.




Spyros-Andres Velez Zervos

Spyros-Andres Velez Zervos’ Life 

By: Spyros-Andres Velez Zervos


When I was born, I was learning Greek, English, and Spanish. That is because my mom is from Greece and my dad is from Colombia. My name is Spyros-Andres Velez-Zervos and I was born in College Station, TX, in America. Spyros is my Greek grandpa’s name and Andres is my Colombian great grandpa’s name. Same story with my last name. Velez is my dad’s last name and Zervou/Zervos is my mom’s last name. 

I met my grandma and grandpa when I went to Greece. That’s where I started crawling. I wanted to chase my dog, but I could not crawl or walk.  So then after one week of trying to crawl, I did it! 

It was in Italy where I learned how to walk. In Italy I was at a park. I saw pigeons and wanted to chase them, but I knew by crawling I could not catch them. So I took three steps, but my mom got scared so she stopped me. 

When I was one year old, I met my brother, Thalis. I gave him my favorite toy. When I was two years old, my brother and I started fighting. 

While I get to spend every summer and winter break with my grandma and grandpa on my mom’s side in Greece, sadly, my grandma on my dad’s side died when I was only three years old. She died because she was very sick. Since after she died, we only would see my mom’s side of the family and only the aunts and cousins on my dad’s side. 

When I was three years old we moved to Austin, TX and I went to Academia Preescolar Spanish Immersion school. I learned different things about different places where people speak Spanish, for example songs from Spain, Colombia, and Mexico. I also learned about Mexico’s and Spain’s flags. 

When it was time for me to go to kindergarten, my parents found a school for me called Little Tiger Chinese Immersion School in Austin, TX.  When I was testing out the school, my only classmates were Elliot, Ariella, my brother, and Daisy. But then I finally got to go to the school for real! My best friends were Elliot, Davis, and Rylan. But there were more kids. I liked to pretend to be a puppy and my owners were Ariella and Eden. My only teacher was Liu Laoshi.  

In first grade, I got a new friend, Atticus. In second grade, I got a new classmate called Aanya. Also, I met Lucas. At after-school, we liked to play a game called “Stealing”.  Some kids try to steal the leaves that the other kids gather and break the sand nests (but I did not break them). Starting from the ending of  2019, we had (and still have to) wear masks to school because of Coronavirus. Now my teachers are Meggie Laoshi, Li Laoshi, Cecilia Laoshi, Tony Laoshi, Zheyi Laoshi, Sharon Laoshi, Rudy Laoshi, and Ms. Wearden.   

Chinese has changed my life because if I did not know Chinese, I would not know how to read in Chinese. If I did not know how to read in Chinese I would not know the stories that are only written in Chinese. I would not know about Chinese things, for example the ancient Chinese clothes, songs, and Chinese manners. I also would not eat much Chinese food or talk with people who can only speak Chinese. I also would not have my Chinese name Sai An, which means “peaceful person”.  Also, I of course would not go to my wonderful school, Little Tiger, and I would not have all of my school friends and teachers and I do not want that to happen. This is my essay and I hope you will like it. Thank you for reading it. 



Spyros-Andres is seven years old and lives in Austin, Texas, with his brother, Thalis Julian, his Greek mother and his Colombian father. He just finished second grade at Little Tiger, a Chinese immersion school he has attended for three years. He is growing up in a multilingual and multicultural environment that he enjoys. Spyros-Andres loves reading books and playing with the waves in the sea. 




Rachel Huang

The Tale of My Chinese Journey 

By: Rachel Huang 



I started my language journey very young at the age of 6. It started the moment I entered the two front doors of my local Chinese school. Two small but fierce stone lions flanked these doors decorated with lanterns and large red chunlian, making them seem strange and intimidating at first. However, they would eventually become the doors to my second home.  

At first, learning Chinese was nothing but fun. My teacher showed us fun cartoons like Monkey King and taught us happy songs such as “Where is Spring?” and “The Two Tigers.” But as time went on, learning Chinese gradually became much harder. Each day we would practice reading texts, taking dictation tests, and presenting in Chinese before the class. I remember getting frustrated at the amount of words we had to memorize and the amount of homework assigned. Thankfully, my teacher never gave up on me and my class, and she drilled the importance of working hard and persevering into us. After the initial waves of hardship, it gradually became easier for me to learn, and I soon developed a deeper appreciation for the Chinese language. I also greatly improved through my growing addiction to Chinese dramas, especially the historical dramas with their beautiful costumes and lavish palaces. 

At school, we not only learned the Chinese language, but also about Chinese culture. We took calligraphy lessons, chinese painting, and traditional dance. I fell in love with traditional dance immediately after watching the older girls dance and learning the dance myself. I joined the dance group and had the opportunity to learn a variety of dances, from joyous fan dances and Tibetan dances, to more gentle, elegant long sleeve Han dances. Since I had never learned dance before, I naturally was the stiffest and keeping myself flexible by stretching definitely was painful, but I pushed myself to overcome the discomfort so I could perform to the best of my ability. One thing I looked forward to the most was performing at the annual New Year celebration. Every year, small tent shops would open, selling Chinese takeout, new year clothes, and jade jewelry. At night, the show would start, and various groups including mine, would perform lion dance, folk dance, or martial arts. 

I spent a total of 9 years at Chinese school, but these nine years passed by like a blur. At last, my class said our tearful goodbyes during graduation. I felt reluctant to leave this place and the wonderful friendships I made during my childhood, but I knew my Chinese journey would not end. Now that I could speak Chinese, I wanted to use it to help other people. The first time I realized that my Chinese could help others was when I first met a new classmate that had just immigrated from China. She could hardly speak English, except for a few phrases in heavily accented words. Realizing how difficult it was for her to adjust to a completely new environment, I tried my best to help her understand her classes and make her find at least some familiarity in this new place. This experience made me realize how I could help others, so I created a project to bridge the English and Chinese language together. The idea came to me when I was scrolling through Instagram and I thought, people spend so much time on Instagram, why not learn something while they’re at it? So, I started making small posts with Chinese language content, teaching basic things like numbers, making introductions, and easy, common phrases. It was a great success and seeing people comment telling me how helpful it was made me feel warm and happy inside. 

Learning Chinese also opened a lot of opportunities for me. My first opportunity came up when I heard of a job opening as a Chinese teacher assistant. I knew immediately that I wanted to do this and applied. The first day, I immediately felt like I was back at my Chinese school. The sound of kids reciting texts together and the sound of chalk against blackboards sent a feeling of nostalgia through me. Teaching Chinese to little kids meant I had to speak very slowly and use exaggerated hand motions to say something like “Do you want to eat some biscuits?” but I felt proud when they managed to understand and enthusiastically answer “woyao!” (Yes, I want!) Overall, it was a meaningful experience and one full of joy.  

I never thought speaking Chinese would be such an important skill to have, but it is. Through learning Chinese, I have met so many amazing people, learned a whole other culture, and gotten so many more opportunities. Even during social distancing, I still haven’t stopped using my Chinese. Now, I help translate and subtitle for one of my favorite Chinese Youtubers and also some online Chinese dramas. I still have a long future ahead of me, so I know I’ll be able to use Chinese in many ways. My dream is to become a pediatrician, so hopefully I’ll be able to use my Chinese to help future patients and their families eliminate language barriers and more! 


Rachel Huang

Rachel Huang is a rising senior at Punahou School in Hawai’i. She is a violinist in her school’s orchestra and an editor for her school’s yearbook. In her free time, she enjoys sewing, playing the piano, and watching Chinese dramas. While Rachel is also learning Spanish and Korean, Chinese is the language she is most proficient at. She started learning Chinese at the age of 6 at a local Chinese school, and has continued to expand her Chinese knowledge as well as help others along their journey. One of the projects she has been working on is an educational Instagram account where she creates and posts mini Chinese lessons. In the future, Rachel hopes to study abroad during college in China to get a feel of what it’s like to live there and learn more about Chinese culture.  



Michelle Liu

The Pandemic’s Silver Lining

By: Michelle Liu 


The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) started in December of 2019 in the city of Wuhan in central China. Within months, it has affected the daily life and national economy of every populated continent. People have found new ways to live their lives indoors and connect over the internet. Social distancing is reinforced and numerous schools have closed.  

My family planned to go to Shanghai and neighboring cities such as Suzhou, I. M. Pei’s hometown, and Hangzhou during the spring break of 2020 but obviously with the COVID-19 situation, it was cancelled. Today, we spend our time at home and interact only with our family members. But even through hard times, it is always possible to find the positive. It is just a matter of how you look at things. I found this to be true with my experience of connecting with a Chinese pen pal, Yue, a sixth grader, who lives in Suzhou, China! My parents and Yue’s parents are old friends, but they haven’t seen each other for over 20 years. When our trip was canceled, she contacted me and now we write to each other on a regular basis.  

 Yue and I communicate with each other by email and write mostly in Chinese. We became pen pals since February of 2020 when America has not yet been impacted but China was shut down. I was still in school and had my regular activities.  

In our emails, we like to talk about our daily lives. Living in China is very different from living in America. It is fascinating to see the differences in our cultures. For example, school is quite different. Yue has at least two hours of homework to do everyday while we get much less. Yue and I also talk about the books we read, especially Chinese classics. We both like the Chinese fantasy “Journey to the West”. Together we celebrated Chinese and American holidays such as Saint Patrick’s Day, Easter and the Dragon Boat Festival. As the coronavirus got worse in America, we talked about how China and America were changing everyday. We both were experiencing the effects of social distancing and self-isolation. We couldn’t see our friends, or go to parties, or visit a movie theater, or eat at our favorite restaurants and going to the mall was definitely out. These similarities brought us together and made us feel that we understand and support each other.  

Although we have never met in person, we hope to keep being pen pals. Our conversations let me see the contrast between American and Chinese cultures and opens another door for me.  

The COVID-19 situation has made me realize that through hard times, there are good things that will change your life, even though they may be small. It truly depends on you finding the silver lining during hardships in life. Of course, we need to be cautious and concerned about the current situation, but we can also try to turn it around. It is important for all of us to keep an open mind when we look at problems and reach out to help others. At this time during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving back to communities and doing good provides opportunities for everyone to find a new path or a new interest. 


Michelle Liu

Michelle Liu is a rising 8th grader at Longfellow Middle School in Northern Virginia. She was born in Illinois, grew up in Texas and moved to Northern Virginia in 4th grade.  She loves Chinese and she loves helping others learn Chinese. Currently, she is the instructor of the Conversational Chinese class at Hope Chinese school and teaches kids ages 5-14 how to speak Chinese. Michelle is the winner of several local, national and international level Chinese language and cultural competitions. Her Chinese essays have been published in local Chinese newspapers.  

She is a member of her school’s debate team and a member in American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra (AYPO). She likes to play violin for family, friends and the community. In her free time, Michelle enjoys tap dancing, playing tennis and taking care of her dog and cat. 



Madelyne Berwitz

The Pandemic vs. Mandarin

By: Madelyne Berwitz



Ever since I was  (three years old), I’ve been in a Chinese school. My teachers would help me with my pronunciation, writing, and many other elements of Mandarin in the most interesting way possible. However, during the pandemic, my schooling has been slightly different. I have been homeschooled rather than in traditional school since the beginning of 6th grade, making learning Chinese even more challenging.  

My parents were never educated in this language, although my 妹妹 (younger sister) is just beginning to learn. Despite that, my only source of people speaking Chinese were in pre-recorded videos. I would follow along with them and correct my pronunciation as the video continued. But self-directed learning can only do so much. Without a genuine teacher, I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough practice. This all changed a few months into the year, when my parents found me a tutor.  

I went through two tutors during the 2020-2021 school period. My first tutor, let’s call her Emma, was honestly a 很好的 (very nice) person. She reviewed how to count to ten using my fingers and incorporated this, plus many other things, into a game. This was the most interaction I had in months. However, the simplicity of the activities she provided were geared more towards the younger grades. My mother suggested we look for another teacher who was used to educating children closer to my level. Thus, after many, exhausting days of looking through reviews and introductory videos, we found my new tutor, Wei.  

Wei, or as I like to call her, Wei Laoshi (, teacher), is my current tutor. She’s been teaching me since November every other week. Sure, she is friendly and kind like Emma, but her teaching style was significantly different. Wei Laoshi immediately knew my level within a couple minutes of introducing ourselves. She talked to me using the appropriate vocabulary and assigned me the correct quantity of homework to gradually push my limits. After that call, I smiled at my mom, saying: “I think we found the one.” 

Every two weeks I would look forward to meeting with Wei Laoshi. At first, we would read short stories, and she would help me if I had any difficulty with the characters. Later on, though, we started to occasionally play some  (games), such as Snakes and Ladders. Here, I would roll a virtual dice, Wei Laoshi would move my piece the amount shown on the dice, then I read the corresponding Mandarin character or phrase. I truly enjoyed these days. It was almost as though I was talking to someone physically, not digitally, sitting right in front of me. 

To do all of my calls, I needed to use a computer because of the circumstances we are currently living in. Sometimes, though, due to the age of my device, it had a tendency to glitch and not do its intended function. Once it was extraordinarily slow that my entire homework accidentally got deleted! I stared at the screen in shock, irritated, but mainly 害怕 (fearful) that I wouldn’t be able to complete my assignment in time. Miraculously, with some persistence, I managed to redo it and hand it in by the deadline. Wei Laoshi was very impressed with my work, which made me very satisfied with the effort I put into it.  

It hasn’t been easy continuing with my second language throughout the pandemic. During the first few months of homeschool, I had no interaction with any Chinese native speakers, making it difficult to develop enough knowledge to progress. But with the help of my magnificent tutor, I have been steadily improving in Mandarin. My life, as a bilingual student, has been tremendously impacted by her. Thank you (谢谢), Wei Laoshi! 

Madelyne Berwitz

Madelyne Berwitz is a rising seventh-grade student who has been studying Chinese for over seven years. She has a love for experiencing new cultures, as well as trying new things. Madelyne also has many hobbies, including baking, running, and traveling. 

Kaityn Cui

Proudly Chinese-American: Flying Halfway Across the Globe to Reclaim My Identity 

By: Kaityn Cui


I remember the first day of second grade like it was yesterday. 

All eyes were on me as the teacher called out our names for attendance. “Kaitlyn…..” she stuttered, readjusting her glasses as she struggled to pronounce my last name. “Kaitlyn… Koo-wee?” My classmates failed to stifle their laughs as they turned towards the back of the class, seeing a small, black-haired girl shyly raise her hand. “That’s me.” I stammered, not meeting the gaze of the teacher, and not correcting her wrong pronunciation of my last name, Cui. I was used to it anyway. Plus, I disliked having so much attention on me. 

Nonetheless, it seemed that with all the ways I stood out from the rest of the class, garnering attention was inevitable. On another day in class, a classmate who sat behind me tapped me on my shoulders and pointed at another black-haired, Asian boy sitting far across the room. “You guys must be related right?” He said in a mocking tone, and proceeded to pull back his eyes, giving them a slanted shape. “You both look like this, and speak the same language. Ching chong ching chong.” He started laughing so hard that the teacher had to stop mid-lesson to tell him to be quiet. Meanwhile, I had been quiet the entire time sitting next to him, the tips of my ears burning and my cheeks flushed a bright shade of tomato. I wanted to correct him, tell him that I hated what he just said, but I could not muster up the courage to do so. 

Another vivid set of recollections I have is lunchtime at school. Sitting in a sea of cafeteria chocolate milks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I looked forward to my lunch every day. From handmade 小笼包 (xiǎolóngbāo) with yummy pork filling that melted in my mouth, to the various kinds of mouth-watering fried rice, noodles, and stir-fried dishes, my mom and grandma always worked hard to pack me nutritious lunches filled with their love. Each day after I took a bite from my thermos, I closed my eyes and could imagine myself transported to a different region of China. But this euphoria did not last long. Pretty soon, the rest of my classmates would notice, saying things like “Your food looks so weird and gross!” and “Do you eat dogs? Don’t eat my pet please!” I was horrified at what they had to say about me, and soon, lunchtime became something I dreaded. I begged that my mom buy me cheap Lunchables and make me flavorless sandwiches to bring to school. Even though I didn’t like the taste and missed my Chinese lunches dearly, I would do anything to fit in with everybody else, instead of enduring their taunts. From this point onward, rather than trying to coexist with my vastly different American and Chinese cultures, I chose the easier path of running away from the culture I grew up with, in order to fit in with Americans. 

Thankfully, all this changed when I was invited to attend a cultural exchange summer program for free. It was a three-week camp with other foreign-born Chinese students from all over the world to “search for our roots”, sponsored by the Huzhou government. At 11 years old and standing at 4’11”, I was the youngest person there, and undeniably frightened at the thought of spending so long without my parents. But, with the coaxing of other older students, I began to open up, becoming more outgoing, participating more in Chinese lessons, and actively reaching out to fellow campmates, asking to become friends. 

I will never forget my experiences from these short three weeks. I got to meet students from all over the world (whom I affectionately called “哥哥” and “姐姐”). For example, the boy next door lived in Japan, and the girls staying across the hall were from France and Switzerland! Though we all led totally different lives across the globe, our common Chinese language and culture acted as the glue which brought us together. Despite just meeting, we all immediately felt an unspoken connection through our shared heritage as we spent late nights cracking jokes and sharing stories about being Chinese in different countries. Together, we all trekked from the 太湖 (Lake Tai) to a silkworm factory to a Chinese history museum, listening to tour guides, absorbing stories about the history of Huzhou and the process of making silk. My new friends and I used every minute of free time we got to walk around downtown, trying a new restaurant each day. Back in the classroom, along with our daily language lessons, we dabbled in 书法 (calligraphy), learning to play 围棋 (Chinese checkers), Chinese paper cutting, performing traditional dances, and so much more! 

This trip opened my eyes to the beauty of Chinese culture and history, introducing to me all the rich art forms, traditions, and stories that I never even knew existed. I felt ashamed at my previous attempts to throw away such an invaluable part of my identity, times when I refused to speak Chinese with my family in public, didn’t eat my mom’s cooking, and did not listen to my grandma when she told me traditional folk tales and when she recalled her childhood. 

From this point on, in an attempt to reclaim and re-immerse myself into my beautiful heritage, and to thank the older campmates from the trip who helped me discover my “roots”, I decided that I wanted to pay it forward by not only studying hard to improve my own Chinese knowledge, but also to help other students do the same; I knew that I was not the only one who struggled with my Chinese-American identity. I studied hard in Chinese school, skipping multiple levels ahead and graduating in 9th grade, with one of the highest grades in my class. I took electives to further practice calligraphy and painting. I stayed behind after our weekly lessons, sacrificing lunch time because I enjoyed tutoring younger kids with their Chinese homework and supervising them on behalf of the teachers. I also helped out at summer camps, acting as teacher’s assistants, helping them with their lessons and using a camera to document memories. I volunteered at local Chinese cultural festivals attracting hundreds and even thousands of people, helping with the logistics of the annual Lunar New Year performance, and operating a booth selling Chinese snacks to festival participants. For my own academic enrichment, I have entered in competitions and won various awards at the Southern California level for English-to-Chinese translation, composing original short composition in Chinese, poetry recitation, and more. I was also chosen as the lead actor for my class’s play about filial piety and Confucian values; we performed at different venues, and even won first place in a local performance competition, winning hundreds of dollars for our teacher to use to buy more classroom supplies. At school, I serve on the leadership board for the Chinese club. In my free time I have started a podcast with friends interviewing Asian-American, specifically Chinese people, from all over the nation, asking them to tell us about their unique heritage, stories, and how their journey of living with two different cultures. I would have never had these amazing experiences if I was not Chinese-American, and never learned to love my Chinese culture just as much as my American culture, which I did by immersing myself into the overseas program. 

I am no longer the same person I was those days in second grade, all thanks to a short yet life-changing summer program. I am proud to know how to speak Chinese. Now, I never hide the food my mom cooks that I bring to school. To thank the people who helped me reconnect with my roots, I continue to work hard every day to spread the same passion and love of learning Chinese to other students around me. 

I am still a teenager, still with a long walk of life ahead of me. At this age, so many things are uncertain, and I have so many questions about my future. But, I know that one thing will stay true for the rest of my days, and that is my love and pride for Chinese language and culture! 

Kaitlyn Cui

Kaitlyn Cui is a rising high school senior at Northwood High School from Southern California. She has been learning Chinese ever since she could speak, and graduated from her local Chinese school in 9th grade. As a Chinese-American and a daughter of immigrants, she understands the value of maintaining connections with her Chinese roots; she does this mainly through volunteering at Chinese school and participating in events that promote learning about Chinese language and culture. She looks forward to visiting China again after the pandemic! 


Cassia Charles

Outside a Cafe in Guilin

By: Cassia Charles


Nelson Mandela is often misquoted as saying ““If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”  Although that is not exactly what he said, the sentiment is important. By choosing to learn another language you are shrinking the world and touching the hearts of many. I have watched many reaction videos of people hearing someone unexpected speak in their languages. The joy that they felt came through the screen. That was one of the impetus for me learning the Chinese language.  

As a history lover I was always drawn to China. China has had more than 5000 years of continuous history and a fascinating culture. While the country is modernizing it still pays homage to its past. Chengyu is still commonplace in today’s vernacular. 

In college I had to take Sociology. During the class we had to watch some foreign films in order to get a sense of the culture during a particular time period. I randomly picked the movie “Raise the Red Lantern”. The cinematography was excellent and the acting very well done. Although the movie touched on very sensitive topics, I fell in love with Chinese film and as a result Chinese culture. To this day I love historical Chinese dramas. I am using Chinese dramas and shows to get a grasp of the language and the idiosyncrasies that you cannot get from a text book. Although the language in most historical dramas are HSK level 5, I am in love with the grandeur and beautiful costumes.  

A few years ago II had the privilege of visiting the People’s Republic of China. I booked my trip through intrepid Travel. Their goal is to have travelers experience authentic day to day life. They believe in  sustainable travel and that the money that is spent is put into the local economy. They set up specific cultural activities for travelers to get to know more about the country they are visiting. I flew into Hong Kong a few days early and experienced the hustle and bustle of this international city. I walked around the city and took it all in. I even took the ferry to Macau. However, when we crossed into the mainland I got to experience the beauty of the most populous country on earth. Our first stop was Guilin. Guilin has breathtaking scenery. In Guilin we rode bikes around the area. I took a cooking class at a local school. One of the dishes Guilin is famous for is Beer Fish. However, I am a vegetarian and I was taught to make beer tofu instead. We had lunch with a local family and experienced their everyday life. I also took a calligraphy class. Our teacher taught us a few characters and the significance of each stroke. It was much harder than I thought it would be. Most outsiders look at Chinese characters as random strokes or outlines for a tattoo but they have greater significance. There are specific stroke orders and it takes years to truly master.  

While sitting outside of a cafe in Guilin, a young girl saw me and gasped and pointed at me. I was not offended because I knew I was probably one of the first black people she had seen in person in her young life. I smiled and waved and she did the same. At the end of the day we are all part of the same human family.  

From Guilin we flew to Shanghai. I thought New York was big and busy but it was no match to Shanghai. From Shanghai we took the train to Xi’an. That was my first experience with overnight train travel. The ride was very comfortable and we reached Xian in no time. In Xi’an we went to visit the tomb and the adjourning museum of the first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang. The terracotta warriors were amazing to see in person. I sat in awe of the history that I was observing.  

From there we took the train to our last stop in Beijing. I have visited many cities like Sydney, London, Paris, Cape Town. Beijing joined the list of one of my favorite cities. While visiting the Forbidden City, I sat and imagined the people that have lived and walked there. I had the same experience while walking across the Great Wall. My 3 weeks in China was one of the best and most enriching experiences of my life. Once the pandemic is over I cannot wait to go back.  

One of the major regrets of my trip is that I did not speak the language. I could not communicate with the average person. Towards the end of 2020 I decided it was time to learn the Chinese language. I took Chinese this semester and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I am learning how to think in a whole new language and it’s even reducing my risk of dementia. Ultimately I’d like to work in conjunction with the Chinese CDC. Like Mandela’s misquote, I want to touch hearts, bring down walls and build bridges.

Cassia Charles

My name is Cassia Charles. I was born on the island of the Commonwealth of Dominica. My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was 4 years old. I have lived most of my life in New York City. I am a graduate of Cornell University and currently work at New York Presbyterian Hospital. In the summer of 2019 I made the decision to go back to school to obtain my Master’s Degree in Public Health as well as become a Physician’s Assistant. I have been taking post-baccalaureate classes at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. I eventually want to work with the US CDC and the Chinese CDC. Once the pandemic is over I plan to return to one of my favorite activities – traveling.



Avery White

My Experience Learning Chinese

By: Avery White

My name is Avery White and I am in eleventh grade at City Honors School.  I have been taking Mandarin Chinese classes since the fall of 2014, when I was in fifth grade.  When I stepped into the Chinese classroom for the first time, I was instantly intrigued, and I have really loved learning and practicing Mandarin ever since.   

When I was in middle school, I had Chinese class for two days out of a six day cycle.  I would always look forward to those days, and to learning something new.  One of my favorite activities was when our teacher would give us a poem or song to memorize.  There was usually a video to go along with it, and we would practice together as a class.  I would be very excited to go home and share or practice the poem with my parents.  After practicing for some time, our teacher would have us recite the poem to her one at a time, in order to assess our memorization and speaking skills.  Those tasks always gave me a sense of accomplishment.  But looking back, as I was practicing, it never felt like work.  I thought I was singing a song, and having fun with my classmates.  I find this idea of making learning fun and inclusive, to be one of the greatest parts of my experience in Chinese.   

In middle school, and now in highschool as well, going to Chinese class has always been a part of my day that I look forward to.  My teachers have done an amazing job encouraging all of their students, and introducing new ways to learn.  I believe that the variety of methods my middle school teacher chose to use, ultimately led to my decision to continue learning Chinese.  When I was in seventh grade, my classmates and I were given the choice to either continue with Chinese or to learn a different language.  I chose to stick with Chinese, and this is a decision that I am often questioned about.  People often ask “why did you take Chinese?” And the question is usually followed by “isn’t it really difficult?”  Over the past few years, my answer has never changed.  I like to challenge myself.  I believe that my knowledge of the language will enhance my future, and my teachers are incredible at helping me understand.  However, the most prominent answer would be the assistance from my teachers.  The repetition of their teaching, assessments, and especially character writing homework, really clicked with me.  Their lessons are easy to follow, and their constant inclusion of Chinese culture helps me to understand the language even further.  I am beyond grateful for the support they have given me, and the numerous opportunities they have provided to me.   

Some of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my teachers are to appreciate the materials and information you are learning, and to always review that information after it is taught.  My teacher says 学而不思则罔,思而不学则怠。This translates to “learning without thinking is worthless, thinking without learning is slack”.  I think that this saying reflects my particular experience.  I have found that if I don’t think about the information that is being given, I don’t understand the concepts, and difficulty is added to the learning process.  The same goes for the second half of the saying.  If I take the time to think and I don’t learn, then I am not thinking deep enough, and I am only wasting time.  My teacher has also reminded us to review after learning.  This helps me to further process new materials, and retain them. Whether we are simply learning new words, or reading a dialog, reviewing later makes learning much easier.  These sayings and lessons have helped me greatly, especially through the Covid-19 pandemic, and I believe that they will be of great use throughout the rest of my life.  Even now, in other subjects, applying these strategies has improved my ability to learn.  And further down the road, when I get to college and a career, I know these tools will make learning more effective.  The life lessons that I have gained from being in a Chinese classroom are truly one of the aspects of learning the language that I appreciate most. 

About two years ago, my current Chinese teacher told our class about a Chinese Bridge Speech Contest.  One of my classmates and I were hesitant, but we decided to participate.  The belief that my teacher had in me gave me confidence and allowed me to realize that I was capable of succeeding in this challenge.  In order to prepare for the competition, I first had to write a brief article, or story, in Chinese about my life and how I use the language.  I wrote about my family’s Christmas and the activities that we did each day.  Then I had to spend some time memorizing my speech, which was quite difficult, but as time went on and I practiced consistently, it became much easier.  I would meet with my teacher, who was extremely patient with me, almost every day before school for about a month, in order to work on my pronunciation and clarity when reading.  I also made sure to review my speech after school or whenever else I had the time.  

During a week of regents exam testing, I did not have school, but my teacher and I set up a time to meet so that we could continue to perfect my speech.  And during the following week, we had two snow days, making it hard to drive around, so we spoke on the phone for about an hour on both days. This time was very useful and helped me to gain confidence in my ability to recite my speech and to answer any questions that the judges would choose to ask me in Chinese.  

On the day of the contest, I was very nervous, and I remember barely being able to sleep the night before.  When I woke up that morning, I felt as if there were butterflies in my stomach, and when I learned that I was going to be the first one to recite my speech, the feeling became more intense.  In my head I was telling myself to pronounce each word correctly, and I tried my very best to do so.  But I knew that I had to trust all of my practice and that I would be fine. As I finished answering the judges’ questions, a sense of relief came over me, and I was pleased with the way that I had performed.   

I received second place and was then invited to take part in the Chinese New Year celebration at the University at Buffalo the next week.  It was exciting to be able to go on the stage with the other participants and be recognized.  I was also very amazed and enjoyed watching all of the different dances and acts that had performed that day.  Overall, although I was nervous to take part in the competition at first, I am so happy that I did.  That experience made me think about my future, and helped me to realize that I am interested in studying Chinese after highschool, and maybe even incorporate it into a career.  I hope to visit China one day, and be able to fully embrace and understand the culture, after hearing about many of the customs from my teachers.    

Finally, I would like to express how thankful I am for being put in Chinese.  If I had not had the opportunity, I may have never considered learning such a unique language.  I have had such a positive experience in Chinese because of my teachers and the programs my school has offered.  The effort that they put in to spark interest in their students is the reason that I have been successful in understanding these topics.  The speaking competition, in particular, allowed me to expand my horizons of the Chinese language, and the culture as well.  If my teachers had not pushed me in the ways that they did, I would have never been able to grow as a student.  Throughout the next few years, I hope to be able to partake in other events and competitions, and continue to enjoy my time learning Chinese



Avery White

Avery White is a rising senior at City Honors School in Buffalo, NY.  She began learning Mandarin in fifth grade and plans to continue and enhance her studies in college.  Avery has participated in events and speech competitions associated with the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute.  She hopes to travel to China one day in order to satisfy her curiosity and expand her involvement in the culture. 

Ariella Poon

My Chinese Life Story 

By: Ariella Poon


Hi!  My name is Ariella Waiying Poon.  I am 8 years old and I am in 3rd grade at Little Tiger Chinese Immersion School in Austin, TX.  You might think that my name sounds very unique.  And it is!  Ariella is my English name.  It comes from my mom who is Polish, German, and Scottish.  Ariella means Lioness of God.  Waiying is my Cantonese name.  It comes from my dad who is from Hong Kong.  I also have a Chinese name, since I go to a Chinese immersion school.  It is 慧盈 (Huiying) which means “full of intelligence”.  It was given to me by my grandfather, who still lives in Hong Kong.  He is a physician there.  My family visits him once a year.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, I haven’t seen him in two years. 

When we go to Hong Kong, my favorite thing to do is go to shops and eat egg waffles (鸡蛋仔).  My least favorite thing to do is ride the subway.  I still have nightmares about getting lost on it. 

Because of my heritage, my parents wanted me to learn Chinese.  They found this spectacular school called Little Tiger Chinese Immersion School.  Even though I am in 3rd grade, I am learning the 4th and 5th grade curriculum.  My big sister Eden (pronounced Aiden) used to go to Little Tiger with me.  Even though we get into a lot of fights, she is very nice.  When she was at Little Tiger, my teachers let me skip a grade so I could be with her.  When she left this school, she and the teachers cried a lot.   

At Little Tiger, not only do we learn Chinese, but we also get to participate in so many spectacular Chinese events!  For Chinese New Year, we learn songs to sing at our New Year performance.  Every class gets to do that.  We also celebrate the Moon Festival and Lantern Festival. 

At my school, every single class is in Chinese, except for English class.  While I speak English and Chinese, I am also learning Spanish on Duolingo.  I also practice Chinese on Duolingo when I am not in school. 

I have a classmate from Mexico.  She is very nice.  Her name is Emilia.  Her family speaks Spanish.  Emilia’s friendship has changed my life.  Her friendship has changed my life because she is my very best friend and I feel like I can tell her anything.  I am so glad I went to Little Tiger and was able to meet her.  My other friends Viviana, Aanya, Summer, and Pan are also very nice. 

I also love to read books!  My favorite books are graphic novels.  In English, I am reading at a seventh grade level! The difference between reading in Chinese and in English is I am more familiar with English, so it is easier to understand. 

I will be leaving Little Tiger Chinese Immersion School at the end of the school year.  Even though I am excited to go to my sister’s school, the local public charter school, I am still sad about leaving this school. I am nervous about going to a new school because Little Tiger is the only school I have ever been to. I am also used to speaking Chinese all day long, so the transition to an English school may be a little weird and difficult.  At my sister’s school, they give you breakfast and lunch for free! You also have to take a lot of S.T.A.A.R. (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) tests, which are Texas’ standardized tests.  However, because the education that I received at Little Tiger has been so excellent, I know that I will be more than prepared! 

With only three weeks left at Little Tiger, I am writing this essay and remembering all the wonderful experiences I have had here.  I am grateful for this school and the opportunity to learn Chinese, because it allows me to feel more connected to my family and my family’s roots.  Even after I leave Little Tiger, I will continue learning and perfecting my Chinese.  It will be a part of me forever. 




Ariella Poon

Ariella lives in Austin with her sister, Eden and parents, Jason & TJ. She loves to dance and sing and has a ferocious heart for helping others and making sure everyone feels included. Ariella’s dream is to become a mechanical and software engineer when she grows up and hopes to use that to help climate change. She is happiest when she’s with her friends and eating salmon nigiri.