“What’s your favorite Chinese food?” Leland Lazarus (Panama 2013-2014) asked.
“We love to eat DUMPLINGS!” the students yelled.
“I’m from a big city in Washington state. Which city is that?” Mycal Ford (Taiwan 2012-2013) asked.
“SEATTLE!” the students responded in unison.
Such conversations are quite normal in a 5th grade class. But what made this different was that it was all in Mandarin!
On Tuesday, November 29th, Leland, Mycal, and Obi Eneh gave a presentation in fluent Mandarin to over 30 5th grade students at Washington Yu Ying elementary school.
It was part of the Fulbright Association’s “Fulbright in the Classroom” (FIC) initiative, where alumni across the nation encourage students from diverse backgrounds to consider studying abroad, learning languages, and applying for Fulbright later on in their academic journey.
FA was honored to host a FIC at Yu Ying, a top-tier school in Washington, DC, that provides Chinese language immersion in a structured inquiry-based environment. Yu Ying’s mission is to “inspire and prepare young people to create a better world by challenging them to reach their full potential in a nurturing Chinese/English educational environment.” It is also ranked as one of the most diverse schools in the United States.
“We strive to give them real world experiences, and as a Chinese immersion school, we value experiences where they can practice using their Mandarin skills,” said Sarah Perkins, Project Development and Grants Coordinator at Yu Ying. “We were fortunate to have Leland, Mycal and Obi, three professionals, who, like them, are not native speakers, but who are successfully using the language in their lives.”
Leland shared how he loved watching Chinese movies when he was little, but that he didn’t have the chance to start learning Mandarin until he got to college. He talked about working and living in China, and his time serving as a U.S. diplomat in that country. Mycal told stories about being a teacher in both mainland China and Taiwan, and taught the 5th graders how to pronounce his hometown of Seattle in Mandarin (西雅图 xīyǎtú). Obi, who attended virtually, kept the students in rapt attention as he described his own experience living in Harbin in northeast China.
“We were so incredibly impressed by these students,” Leland said. “To see so many diverse students being able to communicate in Mandarin makes me extremely confident about the future of our country. I hope that, when the students see Obi, Mycal, and myself speaking to them in Mandarin, it’ll motivate them to keep studying throughout their entire academic and professional journey.”
“Learning Mandarin Chinese and studying abroad in China has had a huge impact on my life,” Obi said. “So it was an honor and a privilege for me to share my experience with young Chinese language learners. I felt energized by their enthusiasm and curiosity.”
“The excitement the students displayed towards language learning was inspiring!” Mycal said. My hope is that moments and opportunities like these further normalize the study of foreign languages for the students.”