I served my mission in Taiwan where I learned Mandarin Chinese. During that time, sister missionaries were (very) informally "not encouraged" to learn characters because they were only there for 18 months and most of our companions were Chinese, so they could read for us. I thought that was a bunch of crap. I remember taking the bus to my first area, about an hour and a half out of Taipei to HsinJu, I kept seeing this on the freeway signs:
出口 I asked my Chinese companion (who spoke pretty decent English) about this city, it must be huge, because we had been driving for over an hour and we were still in the same city. She giggled and explained that it meant "exit." Duh. But, I was hooked.
I was determined to read the Book of Mormon in Chinese. I mean, with all those Chinese companions, I might as well take advantage of them. I learned what I needed. Peoples' names, street signs, menus, restroom symbols. Basically survival vocabulary plus church content. But it was enough. The Elders got wind of my study and one, exceeding bright, elder asked me a very complicated character in a manner to expose my ignorance. I knew it. Thus my reputation grew. What he didn't know was that that happened to be one of our investigators' names. It was a total fluke. But armed with a reputation, I continued.
When I returned to school at BYU, I tested out of about 14-18 credits (I can't remember now and I am too lazy to check my transcripts.) I figured I was close enough to a minor that I should go for it. It was hard. I also took some Chinese history classes and a great class in Chinese calligraphy, but those language classes were hard. But, I did it. It was so hard that I determined never to lose it.
During that time, I also taught Chinese at the Missionary Training Center. A very fun experience. but was very focused on speaking and church vocabulary. I loved seeing the transformation on faces from complete fear to understanding. It was a great and I was hooked on teaching it.
Then I married a man who also went to Taiwan on his mission. I went to the north, he went to the south. We have always known that we would go back as a older couple and do missionary work in China. But that is still in the future.
When Ryan and I were engaged, an opportunity fell in my lap. Literally. My dad was working as an administrator at the school in San Fernando Juvenile Hall. In a meeting, the principal asked "Does anyone know someone who is fully credentialed who speaks Chinese?" My father replied: "I do and she is sleeping on my couch right now, my daughter." I was whisked into the district on the fastest hiring anyone had ever seen (one day - it usually was a two week process) and the next thing I knew, I was teaching a classroom full of forty "teenage" boys. They were the Boat People who were smuggled in the holding of a container ship and wound up on US soil. They all claimed to be teenagers because they were told that the US laws were kinder to minors. While the courts were trying to figure out what to do with them, they were detained at Juvenile Hall. I translated for Probation, I taught them survival English and US culture. I helped them fill out the legal forms. My vocabulary in legalese grew. It was quite fulfilling and fun to be needed. I even received a special commendation letter from the county for keeping everyone at bay. The immigration judge spoke to me and I told him the truth about their ages. I helped them work out a deal and they found sponsorships for them.
Now fast forward to this year. I found my Chinese slipping away. I have been sad over this. It takes a little more effort to slide into my language skills and I look at characters that I know that I once knew, but can't remember. Especially with a family friend leaving on her mission to Taiwan, I have had this weighing on my mind. I even prayed for a way to bring my language back. I decided that I would write to her in Chinese, with translation more for my benefit. I figured that was a start.
Now for the teaching side of things. When we moved here, I applied to the school district. I felt I should. In this uncertain economy, it never hurts. However, even though I felt I should apply, I decided I would only teach if the position was perfect. Perfect for my family, logistics, hours, school, subject, etc. Hence, many jobs were offered, but none chosen. My poor hiring liaison. She would get extremely frustrated with me. She kept asking me if I was truly serious about working or just wasting their time. I would reply, I was looking for perfection. Last summer, I was-this-close to accepting a position that was "almost" perfect. The right hours for my children, close to home, good schedule, etc. There was one problem: I did not feel completely right about it. I turned it down and I decided I was the most spoiled person on Earth. After Madison's broken ankle and Ryan's appendix rupture, I knew I made the right decision. That would have been grueling to not have been there for them. Besides, I had a great part-time gig as a community college professor. So, I was good. With the approach of this year, the offers started coming and I became even more picky. I thought there were only two schools I would go to. Take it or leave it.
A week ago, while we were driving into St. Louis, I got a phone call. An elementary school in Las Vegas is becoming IB (International Baccalaureate) and therefore was required to teach a foreign language. The vote from staff and parents went overwhelmingly for Mandarin Chinese. After scouring the files, they found only one person who was fully credentialed (in elementary), had adequate education (a minor), and therefore, was qualified to teach Chinese in elementary. That was ME! (After the interview and offer they explained that if they had not found me, they would have had to switch to another language.)
It is farther than I had hoped. The hours are later than I had hoped. It is full-time, so I will quit my community college job. But wow, when an answer to a prayer falls into your lap - you take it. This feels so right, and having felt other things were so wrong ... believe me, I know the difference. This will be an adjustment for the family, but I just have all the confidence in the world that things are going just as they should. I am at total peace in the midst of a raging sea - did I mention we bought a house and are moving within the next three weeks? I am literally sitting in the midst of floor to ceiling boxes that, if they were to fall, would kill me. I need to get everything ready for the move, for the kids' back-to-school and mine, and make serious decisions about curriculum and materials to purchase. But, I could not be more confident that all is well and as it should be.
My prayer was answered. By this time next year, my Chinese will all be back and stronger than ever. By the way, I am getting paid for this. A cherry on top.