2008 Boren Scholarships
City College of San Francisco
I spoke Cantonese, Mandarin, Chaozhou and Hainanese (southern Chinese dialects) while growing up, enrolled in two years of Cantonese in high school, and took about two years of Mandarin Chinese at my community college. I spent my year as a Boren Scholar in China, in order to expand my knowledge of the Chinese language and culture beyond the colloquial understanding I had acquired through the community around San Francisco’s Chinatown. The language classes I took in the U.S. were out of context and had no cultural content to help me understand the subtle cultural nuances that come with the Chinese language.
I spent two academic semesters in intensive language and culture studies programs in Nanjing and Shanghai where I worked closely with classmates, tutors and instructors to develop and hone my language skills. I practiced pronunciation, read articles on international events, and interacted with locals on a daily basis. I quickly realized that the Mandarin I learned in classrooms in the U.S. was very different from what I spoke wrote and read daily in China.
My Boren experience improved my language skills and cultural understanding immensely. I realized that we can only get a limited perspective of a culture from learning in U.S. classrooms and watching documentaries. Being physically present in China and interacting daily with native speakers gave me the opportunity to be fully immersed in the culture and language and to understand their nuances. Experiencing Chinese life helps one see what being Chinese is really like. It allowed me to see the U.S. through different eyes.
My Boren experience was unforgettable and intellectually-enriching. Studying abroad helped me to gain new opportunities, insight into a culture nearly alien to me, and a new outlook for my future. The network of Boren Alumni spans all over our country, and I try to take an active role by encouraging people to apply for Boren Awards. I would advise future applicants to keep an open mind when traveling abroad. What you think you know about a country can completely change when you actually start living in and learning from it. It was a culture shock for me, but leaving my comfort zone made me culturally aware of how I perceive my surroundings and how others perceive me as a U.S. citizen.
I now work as a program analyst in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and really enjoy the work that I do. I feel blessed that I have a great career and that I can wake up each morning knowing that I am making a difference and helping to protect my country and its people.
Written: March 2012