By Tim Bloom
Madam Secretary, if you are reading this, I want to thank you wholeheartedly for the Department of State NSLI-Y program. I spent six weeks immersed in Chinese language, culture and society and cannot recommend the experience highly enough. When people ask me what I liked best about the program, I answer that there were three things that made it so great. The first was the other students in the program; they were from all over the country, from very different backgrounds, and were all very smart and really interesting. Some were first generation Americans, some had parents who worked for the Federal government, and some were from tiny towns in the Midwest and others from big cities in the South and on the West coast. I now understand why diversity is something we should all try to have in our lives. People who are not the same as us can add different perspectives to every conversation. They see things differently, and those opinions can open your mind to ideas that are different than your own.
The second thing that made the experience so great was the Chinese language immersion, lessons, tutoring and cultural programs. While it was a lot of time in the classroom, it was OK because it is so hot in Shanghai over the summer that we all appreciated the excellent air conditioning! I had done a pre-trip language interview for placement in a language class and even though I had taken three years of Chinese at Greeley, the language is so hard to learn I really wasn’t conversant before the trip. I also did a post-trip interview to assess how much I had learned and I was amazed at how much better I could communicate. We heard a presentation from a Chinese filmmaker, had lunch at a culinary school and even did Tai Chi!
The third element that made the trip so great was the home stay. For most of the trip I lived in a dorm with a roommate and the other students on the same floor. But for two weeks I moved in with a Chinese family. I lived in my own room in their apartment, ate breakfast and dinner with them every day, went shopping with them, watched TV with them and sometimes just sat and talked about life in the US and life in China. We even made dinner together, and I learned how to make traditional Chinese dumplings, totally different as the kind we eat in American Chinese restaurants.
I learned that families are really not that different in other countries. My Chinese family tried to make time every day to sit and talk to each other, they took turns preparing and cleaning up dinner, and they worried about their son in the same way American parents worry about their kids.
China is an amazing country. While I spent most of my time in Shanghai and Beijing, I am hoping to go back soon so I can continue to study Mandarin and see even more of this country of 1.3 billion people. It’s the kind of place that will feel different every time you visit and every person you meet will give you another perspective on what China is really like.
Tim Bloom is a senior at Horace Greeley High School.