"Chinese Bridge, we're here!" A UCLA Student's International Chinese Speech Contest Experience

During the summer of 2016, UCLA student Brooke Wenig competed with students from all over the world in the 2016 Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students. Winners of local regional Chinese Bridge speech contests are selected to represent their country for the finals in China, held this year in Beijing and Changsha. Brooke Wenig recounts her experience visiting China and competing in the 2016 Chinese Bridge competition below.

The 2016 Chinese Bridge (汉语桥) Competition was a whirlwind of an experience. The adventure started with my plane flight from San Francisco to Beijing, where I sat next to a college student who was also participating in the competition. Even though we were both native English speakers, we opted to speak fully in Chinese together to better practice our Mandarin and prepare ourselves for total immersion in China. After alternating between sleeping and reviewing the culture questions for the competition during the grueling 12-hour flight, we finally arrived in Beijing.

Even though this was my fourth time to visit Beijing, I found myself dazzled anew by the capital city’s rich history and culture infused with modern architecture and development. Thoroughly exhausted from the flight, I was still excited to explore Beijing.

A photo of my roommate from Bosnia (a fellow contestant) 
and me at the Forbidden City

After visiting the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, we headed over to the Great Wall. It is truly an amazing feeling to walk along this massive structure that spans for thousands of miles and can be seen from outer space! My favorite part of the Chinese Bridge experience was getting to meet and spend time with people from literally almost every country in the world.

My friend from Cuba (the first Cuban I’ve ever met!) 
and my friend from Puerto Rico after we climbed a section of the Great Wall 

After two days of sightseeing, all of the contestants hopped on a plane and flew to Changsha – the capital of Hunan (Mao Zedong’s home province). The competition had officially begun. We were organized into groups based on the continents we came from.

Everyone from the Americas (North + South)

The competition consisted of three main parts. In the first part, contestants gave a speech about a gift from their home country that they wished to present to the Chinese Bridge organization. The second part was a talent demonstration (my talent was stand-up comedy in Chinese). In the third part, the judges asked a series of questions to test contestants’ knowledge of Chinese culture and language. I particularly enjoyed watching all of the contestants perform their talents.

The stage where the competition takes place

One of the many reasons why I love China is the people. The day before I left Changsha, I went to a local fruit shop. I had intended to just buy dragon fruit (火龙果) and head back to the hotel, but I managed to spend almost two hours chatting in Chinese with the fruit shop employees and ended up eating my dragon fruit there. All of the employees were so friendly and genuinely wanted to better understand Western culture and why I study Chinese. They even offered to cook dinner for myself and a group of friends that night at the fruit shop if we wanted to stop by.

At the fruit market

The incredible meal they cooked for us 
(we collectively represent Kenya, France, Austria, South Africa, Brazil, and the U.S.)

The hospitality that I experienced in China is something that I am trying to bring back with me to the States.

I’m going to miss all of the incredible people that I met through the Chinese Bridge Competition. This is a photo of all of the participants shouting “汉语桥,我们来了!”(Chinese Bridge, we’re here!). Now, it’s time to say “谢谢,汉语桥!”(“Thank you, Chinese Bridge!”)

-Brooke Wenig (温美清)