My year in China: Falling in love with the language


Originally I wanted to take French. And now I am infinitely, mind-glowingly thankful that I was parentally bullied into a different decision, because the choice that was made has affected the course I want my life to take.

I truly believe I was born to be a performer. There is no other place in the world that I feel as free and happy and true to myself as when I’m portraying someone else onstage. Ironic; yes. A little strange; absolutely. But that’s the way I like it. Acting and performing have always been my passions. I have always known that I would end up onstage somewhere, trying my very hardest to make a living out of a nearly impossible career choice. However, while this was always my life, it wasn’t necessarily my sole passion.

Chinese is a beautifully complex language. Originally, as a 13-year-old in her first language class, I never expected it to go anywhere. Until I actually started working on it. Almost immediately I fell in love. I think it was the characters that immediately entranced me. The idea of writing through pictures or writing through image was fascinating. Did you know that you can break down the smaller characters within a more complicated character and figure out not only the meaning but in many cases the definition? It was like a picture-puzzle challenge in a language; a beautiful complicated enigma of a language begging to be tackled.

And then there was the spoken language itself, just as, if not more complex than, the writing. Pronunciation immediately became a mind-boggling situation. What do you mean there are five different ways to pronounce a single consonant syllable to create five, totally separate, completely unique words? Not exactly something that comes easy to a little New England girl.

So there I was, immediately whirled up in the verbal culture of a culture I knew nothing about. Whipped up in linguistics I knew I would probably, even with years of classes and even immersion, be able to master. I was at its mercy. And that was, and is, absolutely fine with me.

Originally published on Oct. 31, 2013.

Zoe Perra is a recent graduate of Brattleboro Union High School. She is taking a year off between high school and college to experience life in China. Visit her blog at


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