Last night, Friday, April 5th, at 4:26 PM, I was standing in my kitchen at home getting ready to teach a piano lesson. Out of habit, I refreshed my email (damn Apple Mail for their inconsistent email notifications) and saw that I had received an email from NSLI-Y. Leading up to this moment, I was fully expecting to be reading some form of “we regret to inform you…”—not only were my chances low due to the sheer competition, but I had switched my language preferences in the middle of the year. Besides, I had just been honored with the YES Abroad scholarship in Senegal, and I was so stoked to live and learn in Africa for a year that I had already filled the forms and mailed them in.
Then I read the words: “Dear Mei, we are pleased to inform you….”
I immediately burst into tears.
I was an absolute mess for two hours, sobbing uncontrollably out of shock, excitement, disbelief… the reality is still sinking in. Over the last 4 years or so, I have spent countless nights lying awake, listening to Joker Xue and wishing with all my heart that I could fully understand his songs. So many conversations I haven’t had, so many uncommunicated thoughts, opinions, and arguments between me and every Chinese speaking person I’ve encountered. So many episodes of “Eternal Love”, so many novels, so many WeChat conversations I haven’t been able to fully understand or engage with. So many life-changing trips and visits to China (Yellow Mountain, I’m coming back for you), so many long Saturday afternoons spent fruitlessly at Chinese school, yet all to no avail. I continued to be next to illiterate—and to this day, I’m not confident in communicating above an elementary level.
Thank you to my wonderful English teacher for reading the horrible cringe-fest of first, second, and fifteenth-draft essays, to my incredibly supportive parents, to my brothers for dealing with all my crying, to my friends for dealing with my insatiable love for China (and all the one-sided conversations of me nerding out over East Asia), and to my World History teacher for giving me with a comprehensive and thoughtful foundation of Chinese history and supporting me through this journey. Thank you as well to NSLI-Y and American Councils, to the current and past NSLI-Y alumni (especially to those who gave invaluable advice out of kindness and their passion for sharing their love of language-learning), to Lillian (and Joelle!) for starting this whole journey back in that curtainless, communal dorm room shower, and to the big wide universe for making the unbelievable impossible possible. I can’t wait.