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courage instead of fear: Mandarin immersion continues to change us inside and out

By Cara Wickstra

As I reflect on our time so far in immersion, I can see it truly was a game changer to take the step of faith and enroll in Mandarin immersion. I’ll be honest, it took some courage for me to say yes to Mandarin because it was way outside of my comfort zone and knowledge base. It was not very likely that I would be able to “pick up” Mandarin as I potentially could with Spanish in order to understand a little of what my kids and their teachers were saying.

I’m beginning to notice is that there’s an inside change that happens with these kids too. They begin to see the world differently.

And yet, as parents, we want the best for our children. We hope and pray that their lives in some ways will be better than ours – they’ll be smarter than us, make better choices at key moments in their lives, have more courage than we did, etc. As an immersion parent, I’ve already sent them in a new direction and equipped them with tools more advanced than I had.  But that’s not the end of it. We often look at immersion and see the outside, which is still amazing.  But what I’m beginning to notice is that there’s an inside change that happens with these kids too.

They begin to see the world differently. When a stranger passes by speaking another language
or from another country, they strain to see if that person speaks a language they know. Instead of the barriers of culture, immersion opens wide a desire to communicate with people from different places and countries.  Instead of foreign = fear, to these kids foreign = friend. My first grader is already making plans to add another language to his tool belt once he finishes Mandarin. My preschooler is attempting to speak Mandarin by stringing together a few words she knows. Even my three year old was telling me last night that he spoke Mandarin because he told kids on the playground “Nee How” (which is hello in Mandarin).  He even invented a Mandarin song by singing “Nee How” over and over again. We are opening the world to these kids in a way that could never be done by simply shopping at an Asian market or eating out at authentic cuisine … and it’s amazing.

But that’s not the end of it. These kids are opening their minds to the world through language, while the parents are opening their homes through adoption. I know of seven Mandarin immersion families accounting for eight children from China that have been or are in the process of adoption. I’m not sure if this is a typical situation, but what it tells me is that this passion for learning language and culture speas to our core. And to think, if I listened to my fears or my desire to stay in my comfort zone I would’ve totally missed this blessing for my kids, my family and myself.

Have I ever been to China? No. Am I a little bit scared about going to a place so foreign to me with a language I simply cannot decode? Definitely. But I’m still planning to go. At some point, once all the kids are in school, we will make the trip to China as a family. I have a feeling I will be so glad I went, once again choosing courage instead of listening to my fears.

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