Patrick Thompson is an alumnus of the 2020 CLS Chinese virtual institute hosted by Dalian Institute of Technology in Dalian, China. He is currently a junior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he studies electrical engineering.
Getting to Know Patrick
I’ve spent most of my life in rural Western Massachusetts. My hobbies include weightlifting, hanging out with friends, studying Chinese (of course!), and building my own circuits and circuit boards. I am interested in all things engineering and spend a considerable amount of time disassembling and reassembling things just to see how they work. I even fix old engines and do all my own car repairs. Chinese and engineering are my two greatest passions.
I’d always wanted to learn another language and was drawn to Mandarin for the challenge it presented. Due to my circumstances, I only had self-study as an option, and this intensified the perceived difficulty of it. If I was going to spend thousands of hours learning a foreign language, I might as well go big or go home. By the time I finally attended my first formal Mandarin class, I was already at the intermediate high level.
What made me commit to learning Mandarin was how much it forced me to grow as a person. I used to be a shut-in kid, but Mandarin gave me an outlet to communicate with people and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’ve met many of my best friends through learning Mandarin, who introduced me to an entirely different world with which I fell in love. I traveled to China with friends in 2018 and 2019 and this only further cemented my passion for the language and culture. It’s become my personal mission to learn and utilize Mandarin at the highest level, and it’s all because of how memorable my language learning journey has been.
Mandarin is an underrepresented language of study in the U.S., but it has the most native speakers in the world. I think many people are intimidated by its seemingly different structure, but it’s so much easier than it appears. Mandarin is like Legos; it’s all built with blocks. Words are built of characters which are built of meaningful components. Very often you can guess the meaning and pronunciation of a word once you know the basics. Broken down like this, Mandarin is a very logical language. Once you get past the initial hurdle of a different writing system, you start to see the characters for what they truly are, pictographs of meaning. In this way, written Chinese and written English are kind of opposites; written English is based on sound, and written Chinese is based on meaning. This part of the language is absolutely fascinating to me.
I intend on becoming an American international semiconductor engineer. Many of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers are based in China and Taiwan so American companies need technical go-between people to bridge the gap between American semiconductor design and Chinese manufacturing. It’s going to take several years of professional development before I have any right to call myself a competent engineer, but once I reach that point, I will seek out engineering positions requiring frequent travel to China for collaboration with Chinese suppliers and distributors. I hope to act as the direct technical communicator between companies such as Apple and the Chinese factories who make the products.
Immersion in a Virtual Program
It was tough truly getting immersed in Chinese culture while on the virtual program since, outside of class time, I was living my average American life. My favorite experiences were the times many of us in the Mandarin program organized ourselves into Zoom groups and did our own extracurricular activities. Whether it was watching a Chinese movie together, practicing our Mandarin, or just talking about life, all of this added to a greater sense of comradery. Although the program was online, many of us took the initiative to make the most of it and did our due diligence to recreate the in-person experience.
During the CLS virtual program we learned how to cook some Chinese dishes. I don’t normally cook, but I was surprised to learn how easy it was! I even bought some Chinese cookbooks so that I can share these recipes with my friends. Simple dishes such as beef noodles or beer fish are now among our staple foods we cook on a weekly basis. Sharing these dishes with friends and family lights up their interests in China, and it’s the easiest way to open a conversation about my experiences in China.
Advice to Others
Anyone can learn another language! I used to think only certain people had the brains for learning a language but that’s not true at all. It’s not even hard; it just takes commitment. You will be amazed at what just 15 minutes a day can do, because that’s exactly what I did.
May 10, 2021