Why I Chose to Study Eastern Cultures and Philology

Before entering Arizona State University’s department of Linguistics and Philology, I dreamed of becoming an electronics technician. Starting from my early teenage years, I read technical manuals and specialized literature on electronics more often than my peers would read their comic books and fashion magazines. This helped me deepen my knowledge of technical English, and indirectly influenced my interest in studying the Japanese language. My logic back then was simple: since Japan produces and invents the most sophisticated technological novelties, knowing the language would be useful for a future electronics technician like me. Considering this, my choice to study eastern culture and philology might seem rather strange; however, I had significant reasons to change my dream.

Once a friend of mine asked me to help a group of Chinese exchange students improve their English language proficiency. Without any suspicions, I agreed to give them a helping hand, as I assumed that those students’ English skills would at least allow us to understand each other. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that all four of the students could hardly explain the most basic of matters. I did my best, and in two weeks, my new friends improved their English a little bit, but I still felt that I lacked a means of communication. After a while, I thought about my knowledge of Japanese with serious attention. Though it is different from the Chinese language, they both use the system of characters; in Japanese, they sometimes match in meaning with Chinese characters. Therefore, I started to combine English speech with writing in characters.

The more I worked with the exchange students, the more I realized that I needed to learn more myself. During that period of time, I improved my knowledge of Japanese writing; moreover, my interest in the Chinese language and culture increased. Instead of using Japanese characters (which were useful, but still not enough) I bought a Mandarin Chinese dictionary, and started to use words, terms, and phrases from it. My students were excited to see my attempts to help them; not only did they double their efforts in studying English, but in their turn, started to help me study Chinese. By that time, they could already speak English well, so I dedicated more time to my studies.

During that period of time, I completely forgot about my dream to become a technician. Studying a foreign language that was completely different from all the languages I had heard of before made me more interested in the culture and history of China. When I had an opportunity to communicate with my Chinese students, they told me much about their country, customs, dialects of the Chinese language, and so on. Even though my Chinese back then was strained, I still tried to speak it with my new friends; thus, even though I did not attend any special classes, I obtained the skills of basic communication and writing. I also did not forget about the Japanese language: due to the help of my pen pals and people whom I was communicating with via Skype and other messengers, I felt confident about it.

Later, I attended numerous classes on the Chinese language, as well as different kinds of lectures, cultural events, exhibitions, and so on, seeking for an opportunity to practice and deepen my knowledge. Of course, there were times of failure. Chinese pronunciation is sophisticated: the meaning of many words depends on the tone in which they are pronounced, so one needs to be accurate not to say something of a completely different meaning. I remember when I tried to communicate with a group of Chinese students during one of the events organized by a local Chinese culture center; when I greeted them and tried to start communicating, they quickly fled with astonishment on their faces. I still do not know what was wrong, but I assume that I said something inappropriate. Still, such occasions only strengthened my efforts in studying.

When I helped those students, I learned how to arrange, generalize, and explain material. When I was studying the Chinese language myself, I learned how to organize my work, I became more persistent, and transitioned to a person that is extremely enthusiastic about cultural and linguistic studies connected to Asia. That was the period when I realized that I did not want to be a technician anymore; my new goal was to study the cultures of East Asian countries, and this is why I chose to study eastern culture and philology at your university.

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