By Mary “Molly” Finn
Growing up, I craved the sense of cultural immersion and learning by experience. Cultural traditions different from my own stimulated my senses, as it felt like opening a treasure chest. I could feel the momentum propelling the world around. Uniting people in history, cultural traditions create this pace for progress and advancement. As an American, I feel very young in the history of the world, and pulled to learn about the countries and cultures that have stood the test of time. In order to understand the world, I needed to understand China, one of the ancient civilizations that make the world go around today.
As an American though, I felt very distant from China, especially with a massive language barrier. I thought, “One third of the world lives in a land where I cannot speak the language and a culture for which I have very little context.”
This thought justified my decision to study Mandarin through my undergraduate college years. Learning how to say hello with the correct inflections and write my name with the proper strokes was a giant leap into a beautiful, lifelong adventure and showed me what it meant to enjoy studying. And so began a challenging and most fulfilling four years of language studies, as I finally stepped into the other side of the world.
Upon arrival, I found myself in a “hutong” (胡同) in Beijing. The newness and unfamiliarity was stunning and electrifying; I felt fully immersed. The stillness and surprisingly quiet air — a cloud suspended over the entire city 24 hours a day — contrasted the flurry on the streets outside the hutong: people zipped through streets on mopeds, possibly clutching a smaller passenger or a bag of groceries, each moped unique.
Arriving in China for the first time literally felt like a dream come true. It was my time to understand the world.