My story begins 20 years ago, just before I started graduate school. A friend of mine suggested that I read a novel entitled, “Spring Moon” by Bette Bao Lord, a novel about three generations of women in China.
The novel made a beautiful and romantic impression on me. I felt a visceral reaction to the women and their stories portrayed in the book. For weeks afterward, I felt unusually connected to their lives, their struggles and their loves. It wasn’t long before I noticed I was having the exact same feelings I had after recently reading several books about three generations of African-American women. As an African American women, I was surprised and exhilarated by the similarity of experience.
I wanted to know more about Chinese culture, and the Chinese language in particular. It was almost as if I was re-discovering myself through the eyes of China, her history and her language.
That’s when I began my journey learning about the Chinese culture and learning to speak Mandarin.
During graduate school, I coordinated international business and education exchanges, and one day was myself presented with the opportunity to travel. I was given the opportunity to travel anywhere. “Where would you like to go?” the executive director asked me. Without hesitation, I said “China.” And as simple as that, I was off to China for the first time.
It was a wonderful trip of sightseeing, and a series of lectures at local universities and businesses. I remember being on the bus on the way back to the airport, saying to my sponsoring professor, “I had a lovely time.” And then I said dreamily, “Wouldn’t it be cool to speak Mandarin?” I remember that moment so clearly. My professor stopped, and looked me with a calm and sobering stare. He finally said, “Don’t joke about that. If you are serious, just do it.” The next summer, I enrolled in a language immersion program through Princeton in Asia at Beijing Normal University to study Mandarin.
Since then, I have raised a family, and just two years ago, again decided to resume my study of Mandarin. Today, one of my projects is to design and deliver a Global Leadership program, preparing Chinese seniors in Beijing and Shanghai to attend university in the United States. I also volunteer at a local senior center, thanks to the suggestion of one of my Mandarin instructors at Berlitz. I am teaching Chinese seniors English. I teach very practical skills, such as how to make a doctor’s appointment, and how to introduce yourself. No one speaks English, so I am honing my listening comprehension skills as I complete my Mandarin studies at Berlitz, and before I leave for Shanghai in August.
I am so grateful to Berlitz. The rewards of learning a language go way beyond language learning. For me, the more I study, the more rewards I experience, both personal and professional. Most importantly, my study of Mandarin has brought me back to a passion of my youth, and in many ways, has brought me back to myself.
With over 20 years of experience working with global Fortune 500 companies and large nonprofits, Vernice is an executive coach, and leadership development architect. She is passionate about education, China, community development, personal transformation, and her family of boys. Through her executive coaching business, she has been a professional coach and consultant for clients in the U.S., China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Vernice lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and two children.
Click here to see a video of Vernice speaking Mandarin and helping Chinese seniors with healthcare issues.