Learning Chinese in Beijing, by Andrea McMullen


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Hi there! My name is Andrea, but most people know me by Andi. In college, I studied International Business with an emphasis on doing business in Greater China, but my love for China started long before my degree. My dad has been coming back and forth from China on business for over 25 years, and I was lucky enough to fit in his suitcase on one of his business trips in the summer of 2006. Ever since then, I always told myself that I would move to China one day and learn Chinese. Finally, I decided to make an eight-year long dream happen, so I quit my corporate job, sold my car, packed my things into storage, and booked my one-way ticket to Beijing!

My main motivation coming here was to learn Chinese. Literally my first 6 months here I had my face in a textbook, and studied my little heart out until I could feel comfortable going to the really “Chinese” restaurants with no picture menus and could navigate my way around Beijing. I found a private tutor that I worked with 4 hours a week, went to the Chinese lessons at the school 2 hours a week, and I found an amazing language partner that I have become great friends with, not to mention, I was always studying at home or in the local coffee shop Laoshan. People began expecting to see me whenever they went to Laoshan. It really was that intense!

My experience learning Chinese has been so rewarding, but also very frustrating. Most people have experience learning another language, but this was my first time, so I had not only to figure out the most complicated language, but also what study techniques best suited me and what things I wasn’t good at. I figured out that I am not an auditory learner, which is amazing for my Chinese characters and my speaking, but my listening is something that I constantly had/have to work on. To improve that, I forced myself to talk to people even if I knew I wouldn’t understand them. I look back on all of the awkward and embarrassing conversations (or attempts at conversation) that I had and I laugh. It takes a lot of courage to fully immerse yourself, but it is completely necessary if you actually want to learn a language. Not every moment of learning something new will be glorious. The challenging parts mean you are pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and your mind’s abilities. You are growing.

I have now lived in Beijing for 15 months and have no problems communicating with the local people. Of course, there is so much more to learn, but it is amazing how the mind works if you put some time into learning something new. My favorite part about Chinese is talking to the people in our local community; our corner shop owners, the restaurant across the street, and Laoshan Coffee. We see these people almost every day, but now I am able to have meaningful relationships with them. I address them by name, ask how their family is doing, tell them what is new with me, etc. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be involved in a community here, and it was done through learning Chinese.

It is hard for anyone coming over here to kick it into high gear and begin learning Chinese because there is so much to see, people to talk to, work to be done, etc. But I’ll tell you, it is possible to do no matter how difficult it may seem. The language will help you wander the streets of Beijing and help you order the local cuisines on the streets, but on a larger scale, the opportunities available to those that speak Mandarin are endless. I am so excited to see what the future holds for myself, but until then, I’ll be at Laoshan……studying 加油加油!

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