I remember a cold winter day in January 2018. It was late afternoon and an icy wind was sweeping through the city of Vienna, Austria. I stepped into one of Vienna’s famous coffee shops in the city center.
At that time I was already 44 years old but once again enrolled at the University of Vienna. I already had a university degree in telecommunication and biomedical engineering, I already had my own business, and I couldn’t care less about another degree. I didn’t have any of the anxiety and submissiveness of my very young, fellow students. This time I was enrolled to study Chinese language, culture, modern history and literature. It was my 3rd semester and my 10th year of studying Chinese language. This journey started in the year 2008, in Shanghai, China, where I was enrolled in the prestigious Jiaotong University as a foreign student to study Chinese language as a foreigner.
Winter 2018. 10 years of studying and I was still unable to follow a simple conversation. Unable to speak, unable to read, and my handwriting was still that of a 3-year old.
Yet, that cold winter day—like most days—I ordered a hot green tea matcha almond milk latte, found a place to sit, and started to write my Chinese characters.
Now it’s 5 years later. It’s the year 2023 and I’m still unable to listen, speak and write in Chinese language. I’m still studying, but on my own; with Youtube, Mandarin Corner, and ChatGPT. I gave up on studying with Chinese language teachers, of which I had dozens. And as things stand, it still seems unlikely that l’ll be able to teach in Chinese language without a translator any time soon. It seems to be a distant dream for me to connect with my Chinese speaking students directly, in their own language. But I have this dream, and to paraphrase Rich Piana: one day I might. There’s something about pursuing this dream, about sitting down to read, listen and write that makes me calm, collected and happy.
What is a dream? 梦想是什么？梦想就是一种让你感到坚持，就是幸福的东西。A dream is something that makes us happy when we strive to achieve it.