M A N D A R I N S U P E R S T A R
New Zealand China Trade Assocation Young Associates (NZCTA YA)
Min-Ji began learning Mandarin in high school where she placed third in the Auckland Chinese Bridge Speech Competition. In 2017 she placed second at the tertiary level.
Min-Ji spent the summer of 2017/2018 studying in China and the summer of 2018/19 working in China on the Prime Minister's Scholarship for Asia. Today Min-Ji is the Director of the NZCTA Young Associates (among many, many other accomplishments).
When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?
I started learning Chinese during high school. With China becoming a more and more important country, I knew it would be incredibly useful in the future. I thought it would be cool to be able to read complex Chinese characters and speak a whole new language. I was also inspired by the old traditional Chinese dramas my mum used to watch.
Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?
My Chinese language learning journey has been a whirlwind of an adventure! When I first started learning Chinese, I found it quite difficult especially because of the tone marks and pronunciation. I remember walking home from school with my best friend Rita (who is Chinese) and repeatedly practising how to 再见 with little success, I just couldn’t get it right! But over time from hearing Chinese speakers and practising at school, I became better and had the opportunity to compete in the Auckland Chinese Bridge Speech Competition and place third in 2013 and also feature in the Writing Competition. I endorsed NCEA Chinese with excellence and nearly full marks for some externals and grew more and more interested in the language, enough for me to take it up at university! When I got to university, I was able to skip first year Chinese and head straight into second year level Chinese. Although it was quite a jump, I really enjoyed it. By then, I was able to use my Chinese here and there at restaurants and with Chinese friends.
In the summer of 2017 and 2018, I was able to visit China as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia. Every time I came back, my Chinese had improved tremendously because I had to use it in day to day life, there was no “comfort zone” to retreat back to since I needed it every second of the day; to buy food, to get around, to interact with locals.
I was able to compete again in the tertiary Auckland Chinese Bridge Speech Competition and was rewarded by being placed second this time! I am so lucky to have travelled and have a taste of work life in China, I have certainly learned a lot about China, its pace of technological advancement amazes me every single time. The China I travelled during 2017 was so different to the one I had imagined, I went to a place so rich of ethnic minority culture, it was a treat to be able to climb the Jade Snow Mountain on New Year's! I have finished the Chinese part of my degree now but it is a little hard to keep it up, so I try to watch Chinese drama to practise my listening skills and use Chinese casually with some friends. Nowadays, there are unexpected moments I am able to use my Chinese; ordering food at restaurants, bumping into some elderly Chinese people asking for directions or even friends' parents!
What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?
My Chinese language learning journey has really opened a multitude of unexpected and exciting opportunities! First of all, I have had the opportunity to visit, study and work in China over three occasions: once during high school to Shanghai, Beijing and Xian, the second to study at Yunnan University in the Southwest of China followed by travels through from Guiyang, Guilin, Guangzhou, Xiamen to Hong Kong in the summer of 2017 and thirdly and most recently, to study at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan then travel Taipei and Kaoshiung in Taiwan followed by a short visit to Hong Kong then Zhuhai for a legal internship at Innopat, an intellectual property firm. These opportunities were only made possible because I was learning Chinese and were excellent opportunities to enhance my language and cultural competence. I still keep in touch with my homestay families, the language buddies and locals I met during these times through Wechat! Last summer my host sister who I stayed with in Shanghai when I was in high school visited New Zealand to do and internship and I was able to take her around Auckland! We went to Mission Bay and the Viaduct and I also bought her some iconic New Zealand sweets such as pineapple lumps and L&P. I also still keep in touch with my high school Chinese teacher.
Another opportunity that has been afforded due to my interest in China is being involved in New Zealand China Trade Association Young Associates where I have worked up from being the marketing associate, to the marketing manager and now the director position over the past two years. I have also been involved in Asia Savvy.
These opportunities have really expanded my network, I also partook as a young leader delegate for the NZ China Council’s Next Generation Leadership Event.
In the future, I look forward to being able to use my language skills in day to day life and work, I think speaking Chinese definitely contributes to making you more employable for certain jobs. The experiences travelling, studying and working in China have also developed my ability to walk in different worlds and relate to different people on different levels. I think these intercultural competence and adaptability skills will be so much more important in an increasingly globalising world.
What do you like most about Chinese culture?
There is a lot to admire about Chinese culture. The respect for the elderly and the humility of Chinese people is something I have definitely picked up on during my time in China. The way of communal life which I am quite used to also made me feel at home, the best example is probably shared dishes when eating with a Chinese family. I have also fell in deep love with the whole tradition around tea! Having learnt about tea ceremonies and the whole etiquette around tea which is linked with hospitality, has opened my eyes to the importance of tea in China. I remember one time during my stay in a small village in Heqing, we were walking around with the archaeological professor and were invited for warm tea at every house.
What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?
I think Chinese culture is a based a lot more on communality than individuality so there is a bigger emphasis on the family and this sense of belonging. I also feel like what Chinese call as 人情 and 关系are really important; attachment to people, to home and relationships is quite a big thing.
Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for those thinking of taking up the language?
I highly recommend taking up Chinese as a language! I think more New Zealanders learning Chinese would make us a better partner for China in a range of areas, from trade to bridging cultural differences. I think the best way to learn Chinese is really throwing yourself in the deep end by studying, traveling or working in China itself. There are so many scholarships and opportunities to do this and improves your language abilities and confidence a heap when you come back! You will have so many stories and ideas, things to talk about!