Taina Orellana is an alumna of the 2018 CLS Chinese program in Tainan, Taiwan. She graduated in 2018 from Union College with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and currently works as a Sales Development Representative at SaleCycle. Taina hopes to use her Mandarin skills professionally and to one day lead a humanitarian organization with worldwide reach. She enjoys dancing, reading, and meditation.
An Intercultural Beginning
I grew up in New York City, specifically Queens and later the Bronx. I am a first-generation child of immigrant parents from Ecuador and was a first-generation college student as well. I’ve always been fascinated by languages since I had to act as a translator for my family from a very young age. I see languages as a portal into the unknown and a way to connect with an even broader range of people whom you would’ve otherwise missed.
An Unexpected Love for Chinese Language
I studied abroad in Shanghai because it had an internship component but ended up falling in love with the culture and the challenge of learning a language as complex as Chinese after having grown up studying Romance languages. Language learning had always come easily to me but Mandarin required a lot more effort and brainpower, which I found exciting. Learning Mandarin in China before participating in the CLS Program also reinforced this desire because I was simultaneously learning about the culture and forming friendships with the Chinese community.
The rigor of the CLS Program helped solidify my passion for learning about the language and culture. It has also made me more vocal about educating the people around me about Asian cultures through things as simple as the difference between Taiwan and Thailand. Most recently, I collaborated with two fellow CLS alumni to hold an event for the Asian American community at the Museum of Chinese in America in Manhattan.
The CLS Program taught me a lot about myself and my ability to thrive and remain motivated in a challenging environment.
Learning the Importance of Tones
Prior to the CLS Program, I never paid much attention to the tones used in Mandarin. I thought they were too challenging and was content with just learning the vocabulary. However, the CLS staff and my peers demanded a lot more from me and pushed me to incorporate the importance of tones in my language ability. In class one day, my teacher asked us how she could better motivate students to learn Chinese. I responded by suggesting she invite students over to her place for dinner, or so I thought. My mispronunciation of tones meant that I actually suggested she kiss students at her house during dinner. She pointed it out in front of the class and we all burst into laughter while also realizing the importance of tones!
Newfound Cultural Understanding
Learning a different language, especially one as different from my background as Mandarin, has allowed me to form friendships with people from across the globe and people in my everyday life that I wouldn’t have understood as easily had I not been aware of our cultural differences. For example, I would’ve regarded someone not saying, “bless you,” as rude but in Chinese culture they say, “yi bai sui,” which means to live 100 years, but it is only used to address kids. While abroad, people thought it weird for me to use the phrase with adults. This simple social norm taught me a lot about the importance of understanding that not everyone has the same way of thinking and we should embrace that instead of being offended through misjudgment.
CLS Alumni Ambassadors are recent CLS participants who take leadership roles as active and positive representatives of the CLS Program by engaging with CLS alumni and representing the program to various audiences. If you would like to get in touch with a CLS Alumni Ambassador, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org