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My name is Brooke Larson and I have two daughters from Intercultural, one is now a high school sophomore, and the second is in fourth grade. 

Our family has had the honor of visiting China over the past few years and it’s been an amazing opportunity to see our children thrive in their target language when visiting the country.

Many people are surprised when I tell them that both my children are learning Chinese.  My older daughter gradutated from Intercultural and is quite skilled in the Chinese language, having passed HSK-5 as well as the Chinese AP exam.  I have no doubt my younger daughter will continue in her footsteps as she is in 4th grade and thriving learning the language.

My husband and I did not grow up in an environment where learning a second language in an immersion program – certainy not Chinese, was something available to us. When we had our first child we were researching schools and discovered Intercultural, we were surprised that Mandarin was one of the language options available.  At first, we were hesitant considering our family did not speak Chinese – and certainly could not read characters or understand how important something such as tones could be.  We discussed at length before deciding to enroll our daughter into the Chinese program.  During our discussions, we came to the conclusion that learning the Chinese language – especially at a young age would provide our daughter with so many opportunities.  We had no idea how true this would be – not only for Ava but for our entire family.  We spoke about how Chinese is such a prevalent spoken language, how China itself is a global superpower, how being able to speak this language would provide job opportunities and perhaps the ability to learn subsequent languages later in life.  What we did not grasp at that time was what I know now – we were not only providing an opportunity for our daughter to learn a new language, but we as a family were going to become immersed in a new wonderful culture and develop a deep appreciation for China and its people.  We went for it and signed Ava to attend IMLS at age 3.  Our parents didn’t understand why we would be signing up Ava for a Chinese program – they insisted she could never learn as she did not live in a Chinese speaking household.  Within the first year I knew we had made the right decision. Not only were we witnessing Ava learn new Chinese words and phrases every day, we too were learning. While we couldn’t speak or write anything to their standards, despite my attempts, we were learning about the culture and rich history of the Chinese people.  We celebrated new holidays at home, decorated and cleaned for Chinese New Year.  We wore red and started giving out red envelopes, learned stories and ate mooncakes.

Ava our older daughter continued to thrive in school and loved learning Chinese.  Her teacher, Xiang Lao Shu has been amazing.  She is undeniably the best educator I have ever met, but she also had such a way with her style of teaching and her passion for the children and China that she made learning fun for them. Ava excelled and we were thrilled – not just because she was doing well but also because she genuinely loved it and wanted to learn more – it was her favorite subject.  When our second daughter Londyn was born, we knew she would follow the same path and she also started in the same school at age 3.

It was at that point, we were lucky enough to take our two girls and join our dear friends on an amazing trip to China!  When we arrived in China we were in awe of the grandeur and beauty.  The people were fantastic and we spent a week visiting and learning about some of the most historically significant sights.  We ate wonderful food, met amazing people and were even welcomed by our guide to meet her mother and son.  They were a beautiful caring family and we felt so honored to be at their home sharing a meal with them.  We climed the Great Wall, we visited the Terracotta Soldiers and made memories that will be cherished by all of us for years to come.  The following year we went again, this time we were able to experience a visit to a Giant Panda sanctuary in Sichuan.  It was all surreal and we fell in love with the people and the country all over again.  It was amazing to see our daughter Ava and her best friend speaking to native speakers with everyone so surprised that these two little American girls could speak such great Chinese.  Many people exclaiming that they had no accent at all and people were shocked! They would say good job Mom – but I would always say – “Not Mom – that is all Ms. Xiang!”

As the Pandemic became a reality for the people of Wuhan the Intercultural Chinese community stepped up again with support of the Chinese culture.  The Chinese classmates, led by Ms. Xiang and teachers, held a fundraiser to gather funds and buy Personal Protective Equipment for Wuhan.  This was presented to the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Chicago just a few weeks before the global spread and lockdowns.

It now gives me so much pride to see that Ava’s love for Chinese did not fade when she graduated from 8th grade.  When we had to chose a high school for Ava, our first thought was that we wanted to find a HS program where she could continue mastering her Chinese.  However, we realized upon visiting high schools that her skills had outpaced any of the programs at any high school.  That gave us a lot of pride but we knew Ava wanted more so despite the fact that Ava is a very busy high schooler, she still spends her Sundays with Ms. Xiang growing her Mandarin skills.  That is not something we forced her to do – she wanted to. That is not only a testament to Ms. Xiang but also a testament to the language and how both the culture and language have made such an impression on her – it is part of her.  To this day, Ms. Xiang is one of my dear friends and will be forever. In addition, this is the first year that my youngest daughter is in Ms. Xiang’s class and she is so happy and thriving as well.