“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”
In the last week, I’ve been seeing many student-tours around our campus – most of them Chinese. After class today, I headed back to my apartment. Kroeber Fountain was along the way and there was a tour group there. I was in a social mood and felt like asking them where they were from.
The person closest to me was a girl who drifted slightly behind the group of 30 or so kids. I immediately spoke in Mandarin, hoping they were in fact from China. I asked, “請問，你們是旅行團嗎？ Excuse me, are you guys a tour group?” And that’s how our conversation started.
She is a 16 year old, first year high school student from Beijing. She along with the rest of her cohorts attend an international school there and are visiting the top schools in the US as prospective future students. She understands English if spoken at a moderate pace and has been learning it for a few years. I wanted to converse with her in Mandarin so we mostly spoke that language.
She has never been to the US before. She doesn’t know what she wants to study yet, and she really wants to come to the US during her college years. She also isn’t sure of her dream school, only preferring it to be ranked in the top 20. She mentioned that its harder for foreign exchange students to get into schools because of the recent increase in annual applicants – everyone wants to study outside of China, she said.
She revealed that her last name is Bu3. I don’t know which Chinese character it was – With Chinese names, because one word can have so many meanings, you use it in a phrase or sentence so others will know which character is being used – I pretended that I knew the context she was relaying to me.
She had a Beijing accent and I reminisced my summer studying at Peking University. Two of her friends also joined in on our conversation and I caught someone taking a photo of us. They asked what year I was and what I studied and I told them a bit about myself. They were also curious about Berkeley’s overall atmosphere and asked about Stanford – I was kind enough to give them an unbiased view of our cross-town rival.
Our conversation was cut short as their bus arrived to take them to dinner.
Bu has been met, but I wonder… how many people have I looked at all my life and never seen?