I Didn’t Sign Up For This

Roma in high school.

Roma in high school.

When I was in high school I signed up for Spanish class. After getting my first schedule though I had noticed that I was placed in Chinese. I was told by counselors to give it a try for a week or two before asking to switch out. I knew there was no way I’d be staying because I was well aware of what an undertaking learning the Chinese language was. However, within the first couple days of my classes I was captivated by both the challenge of learning the language and the comradery with the other students who were also taking it on. I completed high school with 4 years of Chinese class and two trips to China. 

Then I started at MSU. Despite my experience with the language at that point, I once again had my reservations in resuming studying Chinese. When I was signing up for my classes at AOP I informed my advisor that I was interested in learning Arabic. When he asked me if I had any prior experience with language learning I reluctantly told him that I had studied Chinese for a few years. Thus, against my will, he placed me in Chinese 101 and told me to try it out before I make the decision to switch. Yet again, once the classes started my skepticism turned into passion. And now, in May 2016, I’ll actually be graduating with both an additional major in Chinese and another study abroad trip under my belt. 

I’d be lying if I said I fell in love with learning Chinese from the start, or that I didn't try to run from it every chance I got. It’s tough. Really tough. Every day my mind was pushed to its processing limits trying to manage all of my other course work and learning this extremely difficult language.We used to joke around in my classes that learning Chinese wasn't for the weak, and it’s not. It takes commitment and focus to master, which is something that I’ll admit I have struggled with. It gets especially difficult when you start comparing yourself to others. I’d compare myself to other students who weren’t studying Chinese: they're so lucky they don't have to do all this. I’d compare myself to other people in my class: why are they so much better at this than me? But now that I’ve weathered the storm I regret those comparisons so much. Learning a language is a fantastic commitment—and you must be ready for the unique turbulent relationship between you and it. 

The other important thing I learned from my experiences is that you should always be open to giving something a shot. If I hadn’t been persuaded to try out Chinese (twice, actually) then I wouldn’t have had the experiences or the skills I now so proudly possess. I am so grateful for my personal rollercoaster relationship with Chinese because without it, I wouldn’t have any of the life changing trips abroad or met some of the most hard working people I know. 

So now, what’s next? Well, my other major here at Michigan State University is Comparative Cultures and Politics from James Madison College so my passions lie in studying people all over the world. Combined with all these years and experiences with Chinese under my belt, I hope to pursue a future in diplomatic relations with China. 

I started studying this language over 7 years ago—which means I have spent about a third of my life with it. At this point in the game, I’d say I’m finally done resisting my future with this language, in fact I officially welcome it. 

– Story by Roma Cusumano