Back to Beijing: Junior Recalls Life in China, Plans to Return

Outside of family vacations around the continental United States, most families don’t get to see the world beyond their television sets. Most American kids grow up entirely in America where they were born. They speak English, eat American food and take American classes. However, when junior Bryana Barry was just eight years old, her mother decided to take an opportunity to move to Beijing, China. “I went for the first time in the summer of 2004. I was eight at the time, but we didn’t move there until I was nine,” Barry said.

She spent fourth grade at a school that was much different than what the average American fourth grader experiences.

“I went to an international school, so you had to be a foreign passport holder to go there,” Barry said, “It had a more global look on things. So you look on it from everywhere’s point of view, not just the American point of view.”

An added bonus for Barry included the diversity of the kids she went to school with. “You got to meet a ton of cool people at school. You could be sitting next to someone who is also from the U.S., South Korea, Germany, Japan, Singapore, anywhere.”

Throughout the program, Barry made close friends. “They give you a buddy when you first get there, and you work with that buddy, and that buddy, I’m still best friends with her to this day,” Barry said.

Aside from the social aspect, Barry said she believes her academic abilities were also greatly enhanced by the opportunity. “We always joked that I couldn’t read before I got there, but somehow my English reading improved when I went there. There’s a ton of math tricks that I learned there that I still use now, and it accelerated me in math,” Barry said.

Not only did Barry learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but from her time in Beijing, she can still speak Mandarin today. “I still wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent fluent. I was starting to speak and have conversations around March of 2005, so after about six months,” Barry said.

She also had many opportunities for extracurricular involvement within the program.

“I did cheerleading, and I did choir. I started learning how to play the flute while I was there,” Barry said, “Cheerleading was way easier; I mean it was more for us than anything else. I mean, we were little elementary school kids cheering for the high school basketball players, so it was probably pretty comical to watch, but I don’t know if it would’ve been different here. There’s a little bit more outside of school opportunities here and there. The only outside activities were really only if you played sports.”

It’s been years since Bryana has studied in China, but this summer she is going to return.

“I am going for a four week language immersion program. I’m staying in a college campus in Beijing, and I’m not allowed to speak English the entire time that I’m there.”

Barry has some concerns, but she is confident in her experience to help her learn the language even more. “It’s scary to think that I can’t speak English at all while I’m there, but I know from experience, living in it and not speaking English is the only real way to do it,” Barry said.

However, Mandrin does present its challenges. “The writing, I don’t think I’ll ever be completely fluent in,” Barry said, “There are these things called ‘strokes,’ and you have to do the strokes in the right order, and if you don’t do them in the right order, it’s obvious to some people that you didn’t do them in the right order. It’s really confusing.”

Only occasionally does Barry get to practice her Mandarin in Cedar Falls.

“At school sometimes Katie Yang and I have conversations. We both have taken online Mandarin for our high school language credit, and we actually took it at the same place, even though we didn’t know each other. We just realized, ‘Oh yeah, we have the same teacher,’” Barry said,

“I mean, every once in awhile, you find people, but the people at the Chinese restaurants won’t talk to me in Chinese.”

What’s the best part about going back?

“Getting to eat real Chinese food,” Barry said.

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