“Language is so much more than the ability to communicate. It’s the ability to understand the thoughts, values and culture of others. Language overcomes barriers, opens up our minds to new perspectives and allows us to empathize and realize our shared humanity.”
Rena uses Chinese every day working at the Asian Youth Center in Los Angeles, California, a community-based NGO “whose mission is to empower low-income, immigrant, and at risk youth to overcome barriers to success through the provision of culturally and linguistically competent education, employment, and social services.” The organization is federally contracted, so having a certified language score from the CLS Program helped Rena to get hired. As a Program Coordinator, she acts as a bridge between services and clients by translating and having important conversations with parents about their children.
“When you work with first-generation immigrants like I do, cross-cultural communication and knowledge of cultural norms is imperative to understand behaviors. For example, my coworkers who don’t know Chinese have asked if clients are angry at me, when really we were just having a casual conversation.”
Rena and other CLS Changchun participants on a visit to the Chang Bai mountains
Rena participated in CLS Chinese in Changchun, China after graduating with her master’s in public health in 2018. She has had a close connection with China throughout her life as a second-generation immigrant and heritage speaker of Chinese. Previously, she and her sister would return to China frequently to visit their dad and to train for badminton, which allowed them both later to represent Team USA at the Olympics. Her parents and sister currently live in China, and while throughout her life she has visited Southern China numerous times, traveling with a cohort of CLS students in a language learning environment opened a different experience of China for her.
“It exposed me for the first time to Northern China and expanded my understanding of the country and its diversity. Participating in CLS also deepened my sense of identity as an Asian American, giving me a chance to wrestle with not feeling American or Chinese enough and challenged my relationship with race, power and privilege.”
Rena’s parents were very supportive of her exploring her roots by learning more about culture and language. Growing up, she was made to attend Chinese classes each weekend and it felt like a burden to her. Now, she has found new meaning and motivation to learn the language.
“The most meaningful part about learning Chinese has been the positive impact it has had on my relationship with my parents and family. I now realize that a lot of our tension growing up originate from cultural barriers, so I am thankful that I had the opportunity to better understand the world they come from. Learning Chinese has deepened my relationship with my parents and family and allowed me to empathize with the Chinese immigrant families that I work with.”
November 26, 2019