I was wandering around the "Freshman Academic Fair" at Dartmouth College in the fall of 1988, looking at all the possible classes and majors. Each major had a table with professors and class materials to peruse. The romance language table was teeming with students waiting to speak with the Spanish, Italian and French professors. I wasn't up to the challenge. As I started to walk away, I accidentally caught the eye of the professor at the Chinese table. She was solo. In 1988, Chinese was not a popular language to study. But our eyes met and she beckoned me over. I couldn't be rude and I felt kind of badly that her language was so unpopular.
Bai Laoshi was quite persuasive, but the thing that got me was, "What do you have to lose? Isn't that why you are here? Try something new." After one class, I was hooked. I double majored in Asian Studies and Government. I studied the Chinese language, history, religions, politics, culture, geography and art. I concentrated on international relations within my government major. With each class, I became more and more enamored with a country and people so vastly different not only from my American culture and English language, but from western culture altogether.
Today of course, proficiency in Chinese is an incredible asset whether one wants to be in business, government, military or education. The language itself is an asset, but there are intangibles that set Chinese speakers apart. Since the language is daunting to most westerners, there are still relatively few who study it. Studying the language shows a willingness to take on a challenge and to take calculated risks. When people ask me why their child should study Chinese, my answer is, "What do they have to lose?"