August 24, 2008

‘In Love With China’

By Bonnie Washuk

LEWISTON - Hannah Fazio is ready to go back to school - in China.

The Lewiston High School junior won a School Year Abroad scholarship - awarded to one student in the United States each year - to study in Beijing. The $39,900 scholarship covers tuition, room, board, travel within China, medical insurance and laundry.

What helped her win? Hannah, 16, is fluent in Mandarin, the standard language in China.

Learning to read and write in Chinese is challenging, she said. But learning to speak Chinese wasn't hard. "I tried learning French. I couldn't."

She was introduced to the language early. As a baby in Pittsburgh she was cared for by a "nai nai" (Chinese for grandmother). Her adopted nai nai spoke only Chinese. "At age 2, anything she could say in English she could say in Chinese," said her mother, Margaret Maurer-Fazio.

The family moved to Lewiston when Hannah was 2 years old. Her mother, a Bates College economics professor who specializes in the Chinese labor market, often took students to China. When she did, her daughter went, too.

Hannah spent three months in a Chinese kindergarten. At ages 11, 14 and 15, she took more trips to China, enrolling in Chinese language courses at Nanjing University and East China Normal University in Shanghai.

When she didn't hear Chinese spoken often, it was hard to keep up with the language, she said. She took courses at Bates, joined a group that meets weekly to speak Chinese and worked as a counselor at a summer camp for Chinese children in Belgrade, Maine.

In Beijing this fall Hannah will wear a school uniform, a zipper jacket and track pants. Her math, history, English and culture classes will be in English. She'll spend two to three hours a day learning Chinese.

As part of her program she'll travel to remote villages, and she hopes to teach English as a volunteer. "Walking down Main Street people say, 'Do you speak English? I want to practice.' People in China are really eager about that."

Hannah has already adjusted to some cultural differences: Chinese students take school more seriously than most, Chinese citizens are more aware of what's happening abroad and they have more respect for the elderly.

Chinese people also have much national pride and sing their national anthem every day. They're proud their country is rapidly developing, and that they're hosting the Olympics. Years before the games, there were Olympic logos and signs all over, Hannah said.

"There's been so much hype," she said. "I'm so excited to be there after the Olympics." She's interested in how the games may have changed China's outlook on foreigners.

She's attracted to the country for several reasons.

China has a rich history, is always changing and full of different cultures, she said. "I love how it's one country, but it's like different countries. Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in the world. But when you go to rural areas, you see nomads. You think, 'I'm in the same country?'"

There's always something to learn, she said. "I'm in love with China."

Originally published by Staff Writer.

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