Theo Velaise ’17 spent six weeks studying Chinese language and culture at the Xiamen University in Fujian on a scholarship he won through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth.
The NSLI program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and provides scholarships to high school students so that they can study languages abroad that are not commonly taught in school.
After applying online with the State Department, Velaise went through multiple rounds of cuts before his interview with NSLI.
Velaise spent three weeks with a host family, two weeks in the university and one week exploring China alongside other American students.
“Every morning from nine to 12, I had Chinese class studies where we learned grammar conjugation, writing and speaking,” Velaise said. “It was a really educational trip because I learned a lot, and I went over structures that I had previously learned before but was able to expand upon… I reaffirmed what I have learned at Harvard-Westlake.”
Adjusting to life in China was difficult at first, according to Velaise.
However, it did not take long for Velaise to become acquainted with their way of life.
“The culture shock was my biggest worry because China’s culture is so different from how we live in America, but after that the trip was not that hard,” Velaise said. “You just have to welcome the culture.”
Velaise said that he was drawn to the language in seventh grade because of the boom in the Chinese market and its prevalence in business and economics.
“I would like to do something business oriented in China with chinese speaking ability,” Velaise said. “Hopefully I’ll get a degree in economics… I would love to live in Shanghai.”
In addition to learning Chinese grammar and culture, Velaise said that one of the most impactful parts of his trip was meeting other American students and learning from them. The experience was one that Velaise said will carry with him throughout the rest of his life.
“I think that now I’m much more open-minded because I know how people live in other places,” Velaise said. “I think what’s good is now I can always think from a different perspective. Whether I’m solving a problem or speaking to someone, I can always take a step back and look at it differently, and I will always take that with me.”
Velaise will take AP French, Chinese III Honors and Directed Study in Italian during the 2014-2015 school year.