I have two cousins who SPENT the school year in Taiwan and the summers with me in a family vacation home on Lake Michigan. The moment I heard them speak to one another in Mandarin, I became CONSUMED with learning their “secret language”. So, when Sidwell Friends school offered ME the opportunity to learn Chinese in seventh grade, I WAS ENTHUSIASTIC. I SOON realized it would be no easy feat to learn to speak the language fluently. On the first day of class, WE WERE TOLD WE needed to recognize at least 2,000 characters IN ORDER TO READ the front page of a Chinese newspaper! DESPITE THE ARDUOUS AND OFTEN INTIMIDATING COURSE OF STUDY, I have continued with Mandarin through high school. I never dreamed what it would later mean to me in terms of a once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity. But more important, I never dreamed that persevering to learn Chinese would help me understand what it meant to be a young woman in America.
My sisters and I have taken turns travelLING with our Grandfather, Vice President Joseph Biden (“Pop”). This past summer, he invited me to travel to Beijing and Chengdu. I was chosen because I had studied Chinese! Denying the temptation to switch to an easier language and devoting all those extra hours of study had given me an unexpected reward. NThe MOST important gift was yet to unfold. However minor, this trip would allow me to act as a symbol of the opportunities and freedoms afforded to young women in the US as compared to China and the rest of the world. That opportunity was my real reward and the gift unfolded over the course of the trip.
After twenty or so hours on the plane, we arrived in Beijing. I put a nice coat over my slept-in airplane sweatshirt and stepped off the front of Air Force Two. As soon as walked out, my Popbegan to help me. He whispered to look to the left and wave to the people and press taking pictures on the tarmac below. I began to understand that it was not a casual decision for him to take his 17-year old granddaughter on this trip. He wanted the world to see what living in American had afforded to me.
Shortly after arriving, my Pop took me to a traditional restaurant frequented by working class Chinese and encouraged me to order in Chinese, even though he knew it wouldn’t be easy because of all the press and attention I would get. Even so, I was surprised at how fascinated everyone was as they listened to me use my novice Chinese. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those pictures and videos of Pop’s young granddaughter would be seen all across China and the world. I believe my Pop knew that would happen. I’d always known of his commitment to social equality, but it wasn’t until this trip that I realized how much time and thought he puts into bringing that commitment to life and the potential he has to impact on a global scale. I learned that even the smallest actions and gestures, such as ordering food in a restaurant or waving as I get off the plane can have an impact. I realized I would have to put the kind of thoughtand work into my decisions the way my parents and my Pop do. I would have to choose the harder path to make a difference. I did that when I stayedwith Chinese and I did that when I ordered in a foreign language in front of hundreds of people. Iwas learning that to make a difference in the world, I have to challenge myself, put myself in uncomfortable positions and that making a difference will never be easy.
When I got home from China I continued to reflect on the choices that I make in life and what my family has taught me about commitments—from the grandmothers who earned their doctorates while they continued working full time jobs as teachers, to the uncle who volunteered to go to war, and to the mother who sacrifices every day on my behalf. The China trip crystallized my plans for the future. I decided on a life of public service. My family had modeled it for me and encouraged me to consider that kind of life, but this trip made that decision belong to me. I wanted to continue making a difference and I was willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to make that happen.
My decision to continue studying Chinese was a difficult one, but I realize now that it was the right one. Challenging myself led to a deeper realization of the pride I have for my country, the rewards that come from perseverance, a deeper respect for my family’s values, and about the direction I want my life to take. But, it also let me leave a small gift behind in China—a visual of what a young American woman is and can do.
I will continue to put myself in challenging situations because I’ve learned that’s what it takes and that the rewards can be great. All of this makes me so excited to go to college. This is the beginning of my journey and I want it to be like my journey to China: a chance to learn and grow…but also a chance to give.
Sent from my iPhone
On Oct 29, 2011, at 1:39 PM, Roberta Buhle <email@example.com> wrote:
Looks like people had already worked on this to join Naomi and Hunter's thoughts. I just moved a few things around and put the main thesis (that the trip impacted her in multiple ways) closer to the beginning.