That which doesn't kill you...

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July 23, 2015

Anna Herzberger is an MSU Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability doctoral student studying Chinese at Peking University the summer of 2015. She hails from the farmlands of Virginia, Ilinois.

I am learning how to fail honorably.

I traveled half way around the world to study the Chinese language and make connections that would be helpful throughout my graduate research. Much to my surprise and a little to my dismay, the most applicable skill I am learning from this journey is how to fail.

Like many graduate students, school has always come relatively easy for me. It was like this: I worked hard and I did well. My time in China has gone more like: I try REALLY hard and everything that possibly can goes wrong.

For example, while I thought I had a dorm room on campus it turns out I did not. This left me in urgent need to learn how to navigate the Beijing subway in order to travel to and from class. That experience left me mistakenly traveling to the suburbs of Beijing, where when I tried to say “Excuse me?” to the bus driver, I instead asked for “a kiss.”

While the struggle has been real, so has the support. The family of Dr. Weihau Xu, a visiting MSU-CSIS scholar, has taken me in. I cannot sneak past them without being given sacks of sweet corn or fresh melon slices. His daughter Lynn (who is only 6 and fluent in English and Chinese) helps me with my homeworkLynn Xu every night. She never lets me slack, but once we have finished there is time for playing princess. While I now have a safe, comfortable place to stay, it has in no way reduced the amount of cultural “no-no’s” I am breaking.

What was supposed to be introduction to Chinese turned out to be Chinese 2. I have failed every quiz; I am still unsure how to ask for the bathroom or water correctly. I have yet to order food without a strong point and grunt – often still not getting what I expected.

On the bad days I am failing but on the good days I am growing. What could be better skill for a graduate student to master? The ability to get rejected, brush it off and try harder. This earned resilience will be more important to my career than learning the language, acing quizzes and ordering rice; after all there is always Google translate.

Fail big, fail often, just never give up.

Anna displaying her Chinese name:

Anna with her name in Chinese

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