My world went from a dull, small-town question mark to a colorful array of opportunity through one almost accidental trip.
It all started when I took my first international flight a few months after I graduated high school. My suitcase was heavy, the airport was hot, and I was unbearably thirsty, but I had done it: I was in Beijing, China.
Transitioning from small town in West Tennessee to a sprawling city like Beijing was a huge transition for me. The entire bus ride from the airport to the school, I had my faced glued to the window while other students slept, talked, or sat as awestruck as I was. A phrase hit me just as we passed our first cluster of skyscrapers in what I took to be downtown: we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Much like Dorothy’s trip to Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, my trip to China allowed me to see the world with new color amidst entirely new cultures. I ate new foods, learned new phrases, and began to understand a history and culture that I never would have known anything about otherwise. I met a host family and shared stories with them, I flew ornate paper kites, and I became a “real Chinese hero” by trekking up the Great Wall.
Before that experience, I was unsure what I wanted to do with my life going through high school. I wasn’t good at math, I wasn’t the best essay writer in English class, and I didn’t have good enough memory recall to anything well in history. But Mandarin Chinese was the one thing that got me up in the morning and motivated me through the day, and when I sat down in front of my teacher, I eagerly devoured all new material put before me. I was the top student in my class. I chose my college based on which campus and which program could best further my language prowess.
When I went to the University of Memphis, I took some time to think about how I could further my studies to keep myself challenged and curious. After some careful deliberation, I decided to also start taking courses in Japanese. I found that I have an equal passion for both languages, and after taking my first intensive history course on East Asia, I was hooked!
Languages have changed the life of this girl from a little town in West Tennessee. Without my eye-opening trip, I would probably still be wondering, “Well, Mackenzie, how are you going to change the world?”
Mackenzie is a rising junior at the University of Memphis studying Asian Studies and International Trade. She loves watching professional video game tournaments, singing, and drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke.