Alex Gavis had never planned on learning Mandarin. In fact, she started heading down the French language road. But after taking a wrong turn at the Eiffel Tower, she found herself merging onto the highway towards Mandarin language proficiency. In CLI Perspectives #10, Alex explains why she decided to study Mandarin and what she has learned while living in Guilin.
Guilin and Back Again
By Alex Gavis, CLI Immersion Program Student
During college, I had always planned to study abroad in Paris, France. Every semester I found myself in one or two French courses, and as an International Relations major it seemed natural for me to study in a country that spoke my language of study. However, I was awarded a scholarship to study Mandarin in China during my junior year. This unexpected, yet welcome, plot twist changed everything. When I arrived at CLI, I had never studied a word of Chinese and the breadth of my knowledge stretched from one side of the “Wok n’ Roll” take-out menu to the other.
I spent the next four weeks in CLI’s Immersion Program, having 4 hours of class every day, half of which were one-on-one. By the time I left Guilin I could hold conversations with shopkeepers and taxi drivers, all while bargaining for Chinese knickknacks or giving them travel directions. Not only did my teachers have a hand in my success, but also the location of the Chinese Language Institute. Guilin is the perfect combination of urban city and rural countryside. The people are the kindest and most welcoming of any I have encountered. You need only to stammer out a “Ni hao!” and instantly smiles spread across their faces. I returned to the United States that June with a greater appreciation for diversity and a deeper understanding for who I was as a global citizen.
Now, as a recent graduate from Virginia Tech, I find myself back in Guilin. I returned to CLI with hopes of furthering my Mandarin abilities and in doing so build myself a new skill set that will increase my marketability to future employers. This is not simply a place for college students to come study for a few months, but rather a community-based learning center that welcomes students and professionals from all age groups and all walks of life. In addition to many new Chinese people, I have met Germans, Australians, and even Israelis that I now call my friends. People from all over the world come to Guilin searching for a better understanding of Chinese language and culture, and in my opinion there is no better place to find it.
I have been back in China for two months now and will be in Guilin for another two, but this is not the last time I will be here.