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I start my intensive course in–guess what!–Mandarin at Shida tomorrow. I am very nervous because my previous two attempts at learning Mandarin were fraught with failure. In fact, if you consider the lifelong attempt by my parents to school me in their native tongue as a third attempt, you could say that my entire life itself has been a failure. Sniff.

From the ages of 5 to 12, I, along with many other second-generation Taiwanese-Americans kids, got dragged to Chinese school for two hours every week. We learned bo-po-mo-fo and read simple stories about how Big Wang and Little Wang went to the market and greeted all their friends. It was so boring.

After my family moved, my brother and I enrolled in a new school, where we were placed in a succession of remedial-type classes for kids whose Mandarin skills hadn’t quite developed the way they were supposed to. I spent most of those classes doodling like the feckless gadabout I was quickly developing into and when I was in seventh grade, I successfully whined my way out of the school all together. At home, my parents spoke a combination of Mandarin and English to me, but I always answered in English.

By my sophomore year in college, I was beginning to regret the errors of my youth, and I decided to atone for them by enrolling in a summer intensive course at UC Berkeley. The class was very, very hard–it consisted of a semester’s worth of Mandarin lessons crammed into eight weeks. I also took a part-time job, which meant I didn’t study as much as I should have. I ended that course with a B, which I guess is okay, but by that time the latent model minority in me had finally surfaced through all the layers of laziness. I had turned into a rabid overachiver, and so I was very, very ashamed of my less than perfect grade.

Now I hope I’ll be able to find a happy medium as I embark upon my Shida adventure:

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Students checking their schedules on the seventh floor of the center. Our two-hour long orientation consisted of a video and an information session in English and Mandarin, followed by the handing out of schedules and the selling of books. Everything went by very smoothly–I was impressed and relieved. More than sixty percent of the MTC’s students are from Asian countries, and most of the remaining 40% come from Europe and North America. If you are wondering, per-quarter tuition for the regular course (about 10 hours per week) is NT$19,200, while the intensive course (15 hours per week) is NT$28,800 (NT$1000 = about US$33). In addition to the classes, each student must also complete at least four hours of studying per day. As a scholarship student, I also need to sign up for a language exchange with a Shida faculty member or student. I’m cautiously excited about that. Granted, my new buddy might turn out to be a psycho, but if things go as planned, I get a free new best friend to replace the ones I left behind in New York City! Hee hee!

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The MTC had thoughtfully set up a book stand on the seventh floor, where the student center is. All we had to do was show the booksellers our schedule, and they handed all the materials we needed to us. The textbooks, which are produced by the MTC, are quite reasonably priced. My beginner level textbook and workbook set me back only NT$495, or about US$16.50.

Anyway, I’ll update my progress at Shida, provided I don’t flunk out tomorrow.