by Madeline Wilkerson


Communication is hard.

It’s difficult when your Chinese isn’t good enough to match the Chinese of the seventh graders’ you teach. Their English is essentially beginner’s level, but you want to get to know these kids. You want to know who they are, what they’re really like, what their wants and dreams are. You want to know about them beyond the superficial. But you don’t know how to ask.

And even if you could, it’d be hard to understand the answer.

It’s enough to make you wish you’d stuck with Chinese beyond the three semesters you took, even if it didn’t exactly correspond with your intended major. It’s enough to make you wish you’d grown up learning Chinese or wish that you could magically pass your English skills onto these children. But unfortunately, since time travel isn’t yet a thing, you can’t. Instead, you communicate using the best mix of English and Chinese possible, and you promise to yourself to learn at least 5 new Chinese words a day. (It also helps that your project leader is making you.)

Wish –意愿, yiyuan. You wish that you could communicate effectively. You wish that you could make all of the children’s wishes come true. You wish that you knew how to say more than just “Hi, how are you today? Read these English words with me.”

Laughter –笑声, xiaosheng. You find out that there are other ways to communicate than just through verbal language. Body language is huge, and although you might look ridiculous sometimes, it’s pretty effective. One thing you hadn’t really noticed before is the power of a smile or a laugh. It conveys happiness to the people around you, even the ones that don’t necessarily speak the same language as you.

Happiness –幸福, xingfu. It’s different here, of course. A good kind of different, though, a kind of different that makes your smile feel a little more natural. These kids seem happy, too, happy that you’re here, happy that you can spend time with them, and it makes you want to spend more time with them.

Future –未来, weilai. At first you were nervous about coming here. But now you feel excited for the rest of the summer and the relationships it will hopefully bring, not only with the students but with the other teachers and volunteers.

Dandelion –蒲公英, pugongying. You are glad to be here.



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