Yu-Chun Lai, an international student from Taiwan studying at the University of New Mexico, shares how learning a second language has opened doors to experience new opportunities.
From a young age, I understood the importance of learning a second language. I grew up in Taiwan, having a relatively good understanding of the cultures of neighboring countries. Consequently, learning Japanese became my first goal towards becoming multilingual. I was fortunate to be able to learn Japanese, but as I grew older, my horizons broadened. I realized that if I ever wanted to leave Asia, English would be the key to opening the door. It is hard to learn English well under the public education system in Taiwan. I knew that if I wanted to speak fluent English, I would have to find a different way to achieve this goal. Little did I know, it would send me down a path that would change my life.
English has never been my forte nor a big interest of mine. It was a struggle to force myself to learn it and I never made much progress. I wanted to give up, but I remembered when I first tried to learn Japanese. I went to a language center but it never seemed to help. It was only when I traveled to Japan for a year on a Working Holiday Visa that I finally got a grasp on the language. I was immersed in Japanese, seeing or hearing everything in the language. My dominance of Japanese quickly advanced by leaps and bounds. I suddenly realized that immersion is the most important part of learning a new language. After one year of English tutorial classes, I decided that if I was going to be serious about learning English, I needed to become an international student and stay in the United States.
The life of an international student is full of surprises and challenges. First of all, at University of New Mexico (UNM) I was surprised to see so many ethnicities. There is diversity in Taiwan but I had never experienced so many in one environment. Students from all over the world come to the U.S. to achieve their dreams. It makes me feel less homesick and alone. It also inspires me to work hard. My English classes are difficult and it isn’t easy to follow the instructor’s directions, but it is my mission to absorb as much knowledge and feedback as possible. Thanks to The Center for English Language and American Culture’s (CELAC) patient instructors and the support system that exists at UNM, I feel like I am making progress. For the first time, I feel like I am benefiting from both immersion, and language instruction. Looking back, I remember previous experiences taking the wrong bus, or trying to find a hostel late at night. Today, these experiences seem small compared to the academic challenges I am facing, such as writing this very essay.
After a few months at UNM, my life has changed. I no longer have to repeat myself over and over again when I order in a restaurant, nor do I have to eat the wrong order. My time here has also empowered me. Education in Taiwan requires students to memorize information and learn to answer single-choice questions, mechanically. In contrast, education in the Western world is more inspiring and versatile. Not only is my English being graded, but my creativeness is also taken into consideration. I feel like my personality is changing. I am willing to try new things and I am getting more confident. When I feel weak, I realize my potential and I am more prepared to face challenges. I am so proud of these changes.
Today, I enjoy all of the diversity I encounter at UNM. My life here has become wonderful and better than I could have ever expected. I am so glad I made this decision. Becoming an international student has led me down a path towards a promising future. I don’t know exactly what will come next, but I am not afraid and I enthusiastically await my next big opportunity.