“You either sink or swim,” stated Dr. Sun (the Director of the program) on our mandatory meeting after finishing our first week under the Language Pledge. He talked about Peter Kropotkin’s notion of anarchism and mutual aid and took us as an example of a small community: “As social beings you are bound to help each other as means of survival. You should be able to point each other’s mistakes in pronunciation and grammar and when this happens, you should be happy; it will save you a lot of time and trouble in the long run, and improve not only your language learning process, but also your personality. “
He continued by saying that, “people who learn foreign languages should be thick skinned,” meaning that we should not be afraid to make mistakes. We should actively engage with the community and take every opportunity as a learning occasion.
Oh yes, I took his advice word for word.
That Saturday night I went to discover the nightlife of Beijing at Sanlitun. There, I made friends with a Chinese lady that turned out to be the manager of the place, talked to interns working for the Canadian embassy and met a Bolivian at a salsa club after she heard the country of where I was from when they announced the winner of the dancing competition, a.k.a me. I haven’t had that much fun in so long.
That weekend I decided that if I was going to actively engage with the community I should play that “外国人“ (foreigner) card to the fullest. I would be the girl that would go around doing what normal Chinese people do with very limited Chinese. I would point at fruit at the marketplace and try to pronounce it in Chinese, and if the salesperson would correct my pronunciation, I would repeat it over and over again. I wanted to act like a sponge and immerse myself as deep as I could to get as much as I could from each experience.
I signed up for a membership at the gym located in my apartment complex. I ask for a 钥匙 (key) and a 毛巾 (towel) every time I enter the place. They see me and smile, and as days go by I try to add some more conversation to the mix.
After the clock turned 12am on Sunday night, the apartment got very quiet. The language pledge had begun again. Week two looked promising.
Little did I know we were about to loose a gladiator that week.