Thursday, May 30, 2013

Patience Is A Virtue

We're not dead. Just wanted to clarify.

For the last 3 weeks we have been gallivanting around China with Spencer's family and then moving back to the States. And for the next 3 days we'll be driving across the country to South Carolina for the summer.

So I promise to regale you with tales of the Orient soon, but it'll have to wait until next week. But keep a lookout for LOTS of posts coming soon!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Grandpa

When I was a little girl (think elementary school) I really didn't like myself. I had become an extreme tomboy. I always felt so awkward and out of place. I desperately wanted to be accepted and involved but most of the time felt incredibly lonely. I knew my parents loved me, of course, and I knew- despite their actions sometimes- that my siblings...didn't hate me. But as one of seven (at the time) children, and as a legitimately awkward child in a large school I often passed through days and months at a time where I felt completely invisible. I craved recognition of any kind and often embarrassed myself just so I could feel like someone was looking at me. I felt ugly. I felt unwanted. I felt alone.

I remember when I was in 4th grade. It had been a particularly difficult few weeks at school but it was finally Christmas break and I could surround myself with family members who were together for the holiday. And at the same time I knew that I would still feel invisible, lost in a sea of relatives. Every year we go caroling as a family. It is a beloved and honored tradition. As I stood in the very back of the group in front of the first house, I was overwhelmed with sadness and loneliness. I couldn't push my way through the adults to where my cousins were, and no one even seemed to notice that I wasn't there. I remember closing my eyes and starting to cry as we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful". And I remember being startled and jumping as an arm slid across my shoulders and pulled me tight. I opened my eyes to see my Grandpa smiling and looking down at me, singing with all his heart. He sang the rest of the verse while looking into my eyes . And I remember feeling seen.

Every year after that, Grandpa and I caroled together. House after house he would always find me in the crowd and we sang every song either arm in arm, or with his arm around me, or sometimes even holding hands.

My Grandpa Packard passed away just a few hours ago. I have to admit that I am fighting feelings of sadness and even a little bit of anger. Spencer and I are in China, and I haven't had the chance to see Grandpa for almost a year. The last time I saw him, Grandpa promised me that he would still be there when I got back. He promised. And while I knew that he might not be able to keep that promise, at this point I really thought that I would be seeing him again. We will be in Utah in just over two weeks. We had already made plans to drive to South Carolina via Utah so we could see him. I already bought him a present from China.

I'm also angry at myself. I feel like I robbed myself of opportunities to spend time with Grandpa and Grandma when I had the chance. I had lived so near but rarely taken the time to be with them, and I feel ashamed and guilty.

But Grandpa wouldn't want me to be sad. He wouldn't want me to feel angry, or ashamed, or guilty.

My grandpa lived life to the fullest. He believed in living and loving passionately. He was a wonderful, happy, twinkly man who touched every life he came in contact with. He sang like an angel, laughed like a little boy, and loved like his life depended on it. And he knew that life did not end after death. He knew that some day he would meet his Father in Heaven, and he lived for that moment.

Grandpa, I love you so incredibly much and I will miss you terribly. I know that you lived an amazing life full of adventure, love, and dedicated service. And I know that you still have a work to do. I am so grateful for your lifelong testimony of the gospel of our loving Heavenly Father and your Savior, Jesus Christ and I know that you are in His loving arms once again. I will see you again, and I will make you so proud.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Language and People

As our time in China rapidly draws to a close, I have been pondering the purposes for which we came and the lessons we have learned. (This is Spencer again.)

One of the most fundamental lessons of which I have been frequently reminded is the importance of people. Over the course of our time in flagship, classmates have become friends, and those friends (and their families) have become family. I'm guessing Alisha will end up writing a post discussing our flagship family, so I won't say too much here. Suffice it to say that those relationships are quite possibly the best thing to come out of our time in China.

As flagship is a language learning program, I have also given some thought to various aspects of language learning. Why do we learn languages? What is the point? Ultimately, I came to a fairly obvious conclusion: the point of language is communication. But what is communication? Too often, we think communication means talking. But why do we talk? Many people can talk for hours on end without saying anything. Others can express themselves quite clearly without saying a word.

Chinese has several different ways of expressing the ideas represented by the English word "communication." Two of the best translations for 'communication' are 交流(jiaoliu)--which often means 'exchange'--and 沟通(goutong), where the literal translation is to go through or connect a gutter/ditch/ravine (which is very similar to the English idiom 'getting your point across'). Simply put, communication is bridging the gap between people. Too often, we lose sight of this end purpose. We can't see the forest for the trees, or fail to communicate due to inordinate focus on language.

For the sake of this discussion, I have divided language learning into four levels. The first level is rudimentary phrases. Since language is a tool, we will liken this to the sledgehammer level. Many of us have a very basic grasp on several languages. We can ask "donday esta el banyo?" or "knee how mah?" in our worst gringo/American accent and still our point across. There's no subtlety to it, but we can make it work if we have to.

The second level is basic proficiency. This is like knowing how to use a ratchet set and screwdrivers. We learn formulaic expressions that we can plug into certain situations. Eventually, we learn to improvise and use the tools we have for situations that don't quite fit what we know how to handle (like using a screwdriver as a makeshift chisel). It may require some pantomiming, but it's amazing how well people all over the world can play charades.

The third level is advanced proficiency. In general, this is as high as you can get in a classroom. I'd liken this level to understanding how to use all the tools in a wood shop. You have your saws (table, circular, jig, scroll, etc.), your various sanders, your router/beveler, etc. Having mastered all these tools, you can accomplish a lot. You are comfortable in almost any situation, and can express yourself well--even eloquently--in the language. This is where most people consider themselves (or others) fluent.

I'll call the final level "understanding." This level is like heart surgery. It includes the surgeon's deep understanding of each of his tools (scalpel, forceps, etc.), as well as the physiology of his patient. Any fool can cut his finger open with a scalpel, but making the correct incision on a beating (or recently stilled) heart is something else altogether. This is when we move beyond linguistics to true communication. This is when we begin to truly understand the people with whom we interact. The culture of our "subject" sets guidelines for all our interactions, and we learn to truly think in the target language. I am often amazed at how the thoughts people can conceive or expressed are shaped by the language they use. (This principle is illustrated in George Orwell's 1984; it is also why many purists believe that the Quran and Torah should only be studied in Arabic or Hebrew, respectively.)

I am in no way claiming that I have reached, let along mastered, this final level for Chinese. But I have realized that even though my days of studying vocab lists for tests or creating sentences to properly use new grammar patterns are past, I still have a long ways to go to "master" Chinese. It is a path with no end, since I will never be truly Chinese. I can only hope to continue to gradually improve my grasp on the "Chinese" mindset, while refining my language skills. Of course, there is no single "Chinese mindset--just as there is no single "American" mindset. Each individual is unique, with their own personal history, background, world views, life experiences, et cetera.

And that is where we tie this back into the relevant lives of people who don't spend years dedicated to language study. To what extent do we achieve this fourth level of communication in our everyday interaction? How well do we speak the language of our boss, our coworkers, our children? Do we strive to understand why people feel the way they do? Do we phrase our conversations in ways that can be accepted by the recipient? Do we seek for mutual understanding? Just because the words coming out of everyone's mouths are English doesn't mean we're all speaking the same language.

All of our lives are invariable people-centric. As we learn to better communicate--regardless of whether we're speaking English, Chinese, or Russian--our lives will be enriched, and our interpersonal interactions and relationships will achieve greater depth and meaning. I certainly do not claim to be an expert in this area, but I am grateful that my experiences in China have helped me to better see the importance of effective communication. Hopefully I was able to effectively communicate parts of this principle to you. :)