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Far from alone

Contributed by Cara Wickstra

It’s crazy how life takes us different directions than we’ve ever expected.  If you would’ve told me 3 years ago that my children were going to be in a Mandarin immersion program, I would’ve probably laughed and said, “yeah, right!” The truth is, China was never on my list of places to visit, and Mandarin was definitely not on my list of languages to learn. I thought it was too difficult!  And yet, here I am with 2 kids in Mandarin immersion, and I’m surprisingly able to understand a tiny bit of what they’re saying.   And although I like to think I’m a smart person, my baby-brain has taken over much of what’s left in learning new skills.  So I am equally surprised at this myself.

The funny thing is, my kids don’t see Mandarin as a difficult language.  We had to look up which language was the hardest for an English speaker to learn in order for my son to believe us.  And even then, he still questions it.  In case you’re wondering, Mandarin is the hardest language for a native English speaker to learn. So if these kids can learn to understand, read and speak it now, when they don’t know any better, what a blessing that we as parents have given them.
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I say all this because I never realized how important Mandarin immersion would become in my life.  Several times in any given week, I will have tears in my eyes thinking about what this language means for their future.  It is humbling to be a part of something so amazing, and the kids don’t even realize it.

And to think I almost didn’t try Mandarin because I was afraid of not knowing, not being able to help and being alone in this venture.  But in reality, I’m far from alone.

There is a special bond between the immersion families – almost like your alma mater.  If you meet someone who’s child is in immersion, you instantly become friends because you understand each other and equally don’t understand the language the kids are learning.

This special community was made clear on Owen’s first day.   After school, he fell on the playground and needed to get 6 stitches. I had five different moms help me from holding my baby while I helped Owen, getting bandages, bringing my van closer to the school, and even two moms who drove me home because I nearly fainted.  I was amazed at the support I received from these parents.  And this is just one example of the close community I’ve found in the immersion program.

I hope 3 years from now I can again look back and say, “Wow, I didn’t expect to be here,” as we make decisions as a family that move us out of our comfort zone.  We are accepting the challenge to be a light in this world and opening doors for our children that were not available to us.

Filed under: dliparents, Mandarin Chinese

About the Author

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Kristi Van Dyk is an immersion parent who is passionate about offering dual language immersion as an educational option to all schools and districts. The opportunity to raise bi-lingual children, despite her family’s lack of second language proficiency has expanded the dreams she and her husband have for the future of their children. It is this passion for real life change that Kristi brings to all of our new partner schools. Kristi’s educational training began at Hope College in education in the areas of English and Mathematics for elementary. Kristi pursued additional training in brain based curriculum development through the Midwest Brain and Learning Institute as well as an M.A. in educational administration from Western Michigan University. You can find Kristi connecting with new potential partners, sharing experience with new parents and assisting with training of new teachers.

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