Kayla Wu is a Chinese American mom in San Francisco who sent her daughter LiLi to one of the public Mandarin Immersion elementary schools there. When LiLi was in third grade, Kayla decided to move the family to Beijing where LiLi could be immersed in the language and culture. The initial plan was to stay six months but they liked it so much they decided to stay a year. If it were not for Beijing’s bad air they would likely still be there. Now that they have returned to San Francisco, Kayla and the family will continue to spend summers in China.
I met Kayla at my daughter’s Mandarin Immersion school. I admired immensely her courage and determination when she decided to pack their bags, rent her apartment in San Francisco and go to live in China for a while. Here is the first page of the blog she started a couple of years ago, enjoy it:
The Big Decision
Last week I made the ultimate decision to quit my job and move me and my kid to Beijing. I have wanted to do it at least since spending the better part of last summer traveling around China. My daughter, LiLi, is in a public Mandarin Immersion school in San Francisco, CA. Her Mandarin is excellent and her accent sounds like a native, or so I’m told. But, I’m also told that learning Mandarin in the US, even at a good school, means that at the beginning of third grade she knows a few hundred characters; if we were in China by now she’d know around 2000. We have some friends who moved to Central and South America so their kids could learn Spanish and I’ve long thought that that was a great idea. I’ve recently reconnected with them, read their blog, and been inspired by their courage and sense of adventure. I also met a family this past summer in Beijing who decided then that they’d move with their family of three young kids. The dad, from Ghana, said that Mandarin is going to be so important to our kids’ generation and that the place to learn it was right there, in Beijing. A couple of weeks later they went home, packed up their house, and moved. Since then I’ve hooked up with a whole cohort of expat families who have done the same thing for the same reason. Since I have been telling friends and other school families about our plans, I’ve been asked how it feels. It feels: exciting; overwhelming; exhilarating. Mostly, it feels “right.” The last few days I’ve been reflecting on that, and the various considerations and pieces of the life-altering-changes puzzle. A big piece is Mandarin Immersion. What better place to immerse my daughter in the language? But there are other pieces too. There are professional considerations, mid-life crisis ones (move to Beijing or buy myself a black Jaguar E-type?), getting unstuck. Heritage is another big piece. My father was born in China and left during a Japanese invasion in the 1930s when many Mainlanders fled. He recalled running through a field as bombs were dropping. He was the youngest of four kids and remembered my grandmother pulling on his arm to run faster. He was about my daughter’s age when they left China for Malaysia, later coming to the US for college and medical school. So there’s a huge piece that feels a bit like I’m going home. It’s odd because though I’ve traveled in China a handful of times, I’ve never lived in China. Perhaps there is something to the fact that some hotels and the visa ap refer to US born Chinese (even half-Chinese/half-Caucasians like me) as “Overseas Chinese.” We will move to Beijing in late January 2012. I intend to write here some of our experiences and welcome you to join us on this adventure. : ) -Kayla