My adventures in China, learning Mandarin and in Chinese Culture!

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The Confucius Institute US Center’s People To People National Awards Gala

On Saturday, November 18, 2017, The Confucius Institute US Center held its second annual People To People Awards Gala. The awards recognize students all over America who have excelled in their Mandarin studies and who have helped in people to people exchanges between the US and China.

I was not only selected to win one of these 10 awards (from 110 Confucius Institutes nationwide, but I was also invited to give the keynote speech on behalf of all of the honorees.

It was a little scary speaking in front of 200+ guests, but mostly it was fun and a great honor.  Also speaking that night was Major General Charles Bolden, who ran NASA for many years. He flew four shuttle missions! He delivered a very powerful speech on the importance of good relations with other countries, remembering how he invited several Russian cosmonauts to his home in Houston and how after starting off a little leery of one another, they grew to be good friends!

I had the chance to meet people from all over the world and my story was shared in the media. Here are some examples:

William and Mary News: How Noodles Led To Serious Study of Mandarin

NBC12 Richmond: Midlothian Homeschooler Honored For Studies In Mandarin


I am supposed to appear on CBS TV’s “Building Better Minds” program soon and hope to post the video here.

It was a great night and I’m sure I won’t ever forget it!


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Chinese New Year Reception At The Embassy of China with Ambassador Holliday


I was invited by my friends at The Embassy of China to attend the annual reception for the Lunar New Year. This year was the Year of the Pig!

The ground floor had a photo exhibition which commemorated 40 years of US/China relations, starting with when President Nixon visited China and the two countries started becoming friendlier to each other.

After I walked in, I met Ambassador Stuart Holliday, who was the US Ambassador to the UN under President Bush. He was the second Ambassador to the UN that I met this year! (See Meeting The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley ). He was really nice and gave me his card and told me to contact him if I ever had any questions about becoming a diplomat. (I already did this!)  He also gave me the advice to never be photographed holding a drink, even if it only contained juice. I took his advice and put down my cranberry juice!


With Ambassador Stuart Holliday

Downstairs, there were tables set up to show different Chinese crafts and some special New Year’s crafts.


Showing me how the dragon’s head was made for the traditional dance.


Trying the head on for size while a TV crew films it.

I got to see some old friends!  The woman who helped run the 2018 Chinese Bridge Speech Contest at University of Maryland was at one of the tables, showing a needlepoint craft. It was great to see her again and she recognized me right away!

I also got to see two of the reporters who covered the The Confucius Institute US Center’s People To People National Awards Gala last year were covering this event too, and recognized me right away! It was nice to see them both and they told me about a new contest the Embassy was running, called “My China Album” to share photos of working with people in China. I already entered 🙂


with my friend from China Daily

Then came the national anthems of both countries and the speeches.  The honored guests lined up:



And Ambassador Cui gave a speech about relations between the US and China.

After the speeches, there was some great entertainment. My favorite was the magician, who was incredible! She made umbrellas appear from nowhere and open with a snap!


There were also folk musicians, dancers and martial artists there to entertain. And last but not least, there was an endless supply of food!

It was a great evening and I’m glad I went all the way to Washington to see it!


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Tucker Carlson, on the set of Tucker Carlson Tonight

After I met Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, we had the chance to stop in at Fox News to watch a taping of Tucker Carlson Tonight and to meet Tucker Carlson. It was a great evening with a bunch of surprises!


At the entrance of Fox News in Washington, DC

We were invited in by Tucker’s assistant, Emily, who was really sweet!  She took us on a tour of the studios, which were in a boring building near the Capitol. You would never know there are TV studios inside. There’s also CSPAN and MSNBC, I think.

Here are some photos of the offices. It looks like any other random  office, except there are attached rooms with a huge amount of screens and electronics.

All the way at the end of the hall is Tucker’s studio. It was NOT what I expected! I thought it would be on the top floor of the building overlooking the Capitol with huge windows. I was definitely wrong!

It was a room with NO windows, and not really very big. I thought there’d be a bunch of assistants with clipboards and headphones, but there was just one guy in the room. Two of the cameras were remote controlled and the other person in the room seemed to mostly just keep track of time.  We sat in the corner of the room, and were able to watch the whole thing, which was very cool!



This is what’s under Tucker’s desk, in case you were wondering!

Then Tucker came in. He was super personable and talked to everyone who came that night. It seemed like after coming in the room and talking to someone through his earpiece, he just jumped into the show. From talking to the visitors, to the guy in his earpiece, to the show, all in a couple of seconds, no stress when the guy said “3, 2, 1..”.


At every commercial break, he’d talk with the guests again. I asked him questions during every break, and he answered all of them. He was so nice!



I got to sit in his chair at the end of the show!

Thank you to Tucker Carlson and Emily for inviting us over, it was great!!


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At The Department of Education with Secretary Betsy DeVos


In December, I was invited to come to Washington, DC to meet the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and her Director of Non-Public Education, Dr. Maureen Dowling. This was something that interested me, as I had pretty much zero contact with public school officials as I was home schooled.  And, I was about to start testing to go to a traditional public High School starting in September.

Both Secretary DeVos and Dr. Dowling knew all about me. They really liked that I’d done a lot of teaching and teaching assistant jobs over the past two years.  Secretary DeVos really understood what it was like to be homeschooled  since she actually homeschooled her own kids.  Usually people seem to think homeschooled kids are antisocial or have issues or just don’t understand what life is like. Secretary DeVos and Dr. Dowling both really understand. They asked a lot of great questions about learning languages and we got off on a totally different topic, talking about flying!

Secretary DeVos’ husband, Dick DeVos, runs a charter school in Michigan, where the kids get to learn to fly and actually get a Private Pilots license when they graduate, along with a high school diploma!  I am taking flying lessons and I would LOVE to go to a school like that, but there aren’t any in this area.

One of the nice things that they did for me was to invite me to come back to the Department of Education to meet some of the interns and to make some new friends. They both totally get that it’s hard to meet new kids when you’re homeschooled, so that was very considerate and I appreciated that a lot. I’m planning to come back in March, sometime.

Dick DeVos was outside the office and I got a chance to meet him and talk about flying, which is something he loves. He has 4500 hours of flying time and his new thing is flying  a helicopter. I told him that I was going to fly in an acrobatic biplane for my birthday and he told me a joke, “What food does acrobatic biplane pilots eat for breakfast?”

I already knew this joke, since my instructor Pete, already told it to me. 🙂

“Bananas, because they taste the same going down as they do coming up!” I ruined his joke 🙂

it was a great experience and I hope I shared some good information!



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Visiting The Embassy of China in Washington DC!


On Friday, September 7th, I traveled to Washington, DC and stepped into China!  It’s true, when you visit the Embassy of another country, you are officially on that countries’ land!

The building is stunning!  It was designed by IM Pei, the architect who is probably most famous for putting the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre, in Paris.  Its a strangely shaped gray concrete structure that looks like it doesn’t have a lot of windows from outside, but when you’re inside, you don’t get that feeling.

We first had a “China Salon” which was a panel discussion about China and its politics. The hosts, all diplomats from the Embassy, talked about Taiwan, working together with the US, tariffs, and more.  Here’s a photo from that part of the trip:



After the panel discussion, there was a Q/A session with the audience, and we then went on to another room to enjoy a really good martial arts demonstration by a team from China:




I took a lot more photos, but most of them just look like blurs because the athletes were moving so fast!

After the martial arts performance, it was time for dinner! I tried duck for the first time, and also had fried rice and sweet buns filled with custard.

The best part was meeting with various diplomats and getting to know them. What they did for the Chinese government, what they’ve done in America and much more. Here are some photos of the Embassy staff and me:


with Lieutenant Colonel Zhang Shuangpeng




with Dr. Zhang Yan, the Deputy Chief of Policy for the Embassy

I also got a tour of the different artworks that the Embassy has on display. Some of them are really beautiful!


Panorama of The Great Wall, by Guan Shanyue




The best part of the trip for me was speaking with the diplomats. They were all very impressed that I spoke Mandarin and all of them complimented my teacher! The diplomat who is in charge of Culture, Mr. Mo Liyu,  offered to send me books and videos on Chinese culture, which was very kind!  I’d love to do this again!

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My Job as Teaching Assistant at China Institute’s Summer Camp


In July 2018, I spent two weeks at NYC’s China Institute, working as a Teaching Assistant in their NYC Day Camp!  I got the job through the head of the China Institute’s teaching program, Dr. Shenzhan Liao, who I met at the CIUS Center’s Annual Gala. She was very sweet and liked the idea of having me help the teachers!

For two weeks, I worked with the teacher of the advanced group and the 7-14 year old kids on lessons about the landscape of China, calligraphy, making dumplings and even a  noodle-making class!


Jingrong Yao. me, and Shenzhan Liao

We started the week doing lessons on the geography of China, teaching the kids new words, how to write them, watching videos and more! The teacher introduced me by showing my video from the CIUS Center Awards speech, which was funny and a little weird!

I got to teach a class in calligraphy, which the kids really enjoyed. They took home their works of art and were so proud of what they could do!  Later that week, I got to do a dumpling class which was also a lot of fun!  We did something crazy too, and made dumplings filled with M&Ms! (I don’t think this was very traditional!)


from the Chinese Calligraphy class


cleanup time at the Calligraphy class

Later in the week, Shenzhan was so nice and let me have some time off on Friday so that I could go to the UN and meet Ambassador Nikki Haley. You can read that story here!

When the two weeks came to an end, Shenzhan presented me with a China Institute t-shirt!


And I was interviewed about the Summer Camp, which was a great opportunity for kids to learn about China, its culture and language.  I’d love to do this again someday!

Here’s the video:

The China Institute’s Summer Camp has a blog if you’d like more information. You can see it  here!

Thank you, China Institute for a great experience!

I will be doing more teaching this year, working on weekends at The Central Virginia Chinese School, a school for heritage kids.!





Meeting The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley

Friday, July 13, 2018
State Department Building/UN, New York City


This was without a doubt one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had! I still can’t believe it really happened.

I read Ambassador Haley’s autobiography, “Can’t Is Not An Option,” and was very impressed with her accomplishments and how she overcame so many obstacles to become one of the most powerful women in the world!  (The book only goes up to the point where she was Governor of South Carolina.)

And I reached out to her office, I wanted to ask some questions, learn more about diplomacy and since I would be in New York City for the China Institute job, maybe I could meet her.  I didn’t think anything would really happen.

But, the next day, Ambassador Haley’s Chief of Staff, Katherine Veldran, said that the Ambassador had not only read my letter, but also saw my speech at The National Press Club… and would like to arrange a meeting!

WOW!  I was totally surprised and never expected that to really happen!

On the day of the meeting, we went to the US State Department building across the street from the UN.  It is a strange looking building and there are no windows on the lower half of the building. I met a really nice security guard outside (photo above) and told him that I had an appointment with the Ambassador. (First time I ever got to say that! LOL!)

We walked past some photos of the Ambassador and the President and Vice President:

And then it was through the security checkpoint, where ALL PHONES ARE TAKEN AWAY! There are little storage boxes for everyone entering the building.  We had to wait for one of Ambassador Haley’s team to escort us upstairs. On all the floors there were lockboxes for cellphones.

After talking to a really nice team member and learning more about internships (You have to be at least 18 and submit a standard application), we went upstairs. I have to admit, I was kind of nervous!

When we walked through the doors to the Ambassador’s office, she was standing in front, waiting for me! She gave me a big hug, and asked if I liked to be called Isabelle or Izzy. She asked me about the trip from Midlothian and how I was enjoying NYC.

We took this photo:


And then we went into her office! The photo was taken by the official State Department photographer, since all of our cellphones were gone.

I didn’t get any photos from Ambassador Haley’s office, but here are some photos of other people in the office with her:


On the left is Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, and on the right is the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.  I sat in the same seat as he did!

One thing I noticed right away was that there was an inscribed piece of wood in the coffee table. It was about 3 feet long and it said, “Can’t Is Not An Option” – which is the title of her biography as I mentioned and her motto.  She signed my copy of the book:


We talked all about diplomacy, how to become a diplomat, what to study in school, etc. Ambassador Haley just got a resolution passed at the UN to hold an arms embargo against South Sudan and she explained how complicated that was. That China had to abstain, and African nations had to be persuaded to vote for the resolution.  It sounded like it should be obvious that a resolution like that would be unanimous, who wants to support government soldiers that kill tens of thousands of their citizens?  But it was tried before and it didn’t pass.  Through lots of hard work behind the scenes, the resolution passed and hopefully the killing will stop or at least slow down!

(Ambassador Haley has a desk to the left of where I was sitting. The blinds were down on a sunny day and it was because there is so much spying in the area. There are other embassies and missions right next door with all kinds of electronic devices on the roofs.)

There was a knock on the door at one point and the Ambassdor’s assistant said, “5 minutes until your next appointment!”  And Ambassador Haley said, “Give me 10 minutes, please!”.  How cool was that??

Ambassador Haley knew all about me and we had a real talk. It lasted for about a half hour and I wasn’t nervous after a few minutes. She talked about finding common ground between parties, like she did with the Confederate flag issue in South Carolina. How that was key in negotiating. Finding things in common that you can agree on.

We also talked about languages and how important it is to have great translators at the UN. It was funny to hear how fast the translators work but that because they’re focusing so hard on getting the words right, they sometimes leave out the emphasis on strong statements, which makes for weird translations. Like something meant to be really powerful just comes out as an ordinary statement.

It was like talking to a friend. She was one of the sweetest and smartest people I’ve ever met.

When it was time to go, I got another big hug and said goodbye. I invited Ambassador Haley to have lunch at Little Poland, but she had her next meeting about to start.  Next time!


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2018 Chinese Bridge Speech Contest at University of Maryland

11th Ch Bridge MS-HS reg form 2018 (002)-3.jpgIMG_1631

On April 21, 2018, I went to the University of Maryland to compete in the 11th Annual Chinese Bridge Speech Contest for High School and Middle School kids.

This was the official Hanban and Confucius Institute contest for these states:  Utah, Tennessee, Maryland, Idaho, Montana, Virginia, West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nebraska, Wyoming and Washington DC.

I worked hard to get ready for the competition with my teachers, Dr. Yan Gao, Dr. Xun Lio,  and Sharon Meng.

We all drew straws and I got number 8, which is considered a lucky number in China!
I then did my speech, called “My Adventures in China”:

Then, I did a performance, which was 30% of the score. I chose the song “Ta Lang:”

After all the kids finished their speeches and performances, the judges tallied the scores. I was the very last person called, which was nerve-wracking! But, the good news is that I won!!




I had a great time and met so many wonderful new friends. Thank you to Rebecca McGinnis and Jianxin Cui from the University of Maryland Confucius Institute! All the other kids did really well also, it must have been hard to choose a winner!

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Teaching Kids about China and Calligraphy at Woodville Elementary


On Friday, March 30th, 2018, I went to Woodville Elementary school in Richmond, Virginia, to teach the second and third graders all about China and Calligraphy!

This event was organized with the help of Heather Riddell, a teacher at the school who specializes in reading. Since she came to the school, the kids’ test scores have more than doubled! She is a great teacher and truly nice person.  Also helping was Professor Ying Liu, from The Confucius Institute of The College of William and Mary. She provided ink and brushes and paper for the calligraphy demonstration.

About 50 kids attended the event.  I spoke about my experiences traveling in China, about learning another language and showed some slides of The Great Wall, Beijing, Xian and Chengdu.  I think the kids’ favorite were the photos of the baby pandas in Chengdu.

We then talked about The Great Wall and shared all kinds of facts and history of the largest man-made wall on earth!




The kids asked lots of great questions and it was so much fun to have my first experience as a real teacher.

After the presentation on China and The Great Wall, we moved on to learning about calligraphy. We distributed brushes, ink and paper, but first did some practice with pencil, learning to draw the words for “Life” and “Fish.” Once the kids got the hang of writing the words, we moved on to trying it with the ink and brushes. Here are some photos:







At the end of the day, the kids left with their finished calligraphy and Mrs. Riddell and the teachers and principal of Woodville Elementary school gave me this gift of a school t-shirt and lanyard:


This was one of the best days ever!  I hope the kids had as much fun as I did.



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Peter Chang Cooking Classes! March 18 & April 8!


We’ve scheduled two additional dumpling making classes with Chef Peter Chang and his wife Lisa (also a renowned chef!), due to popular demand!This is a rare opportunity to cook with James Beard Award finalist Chef Chang!In the class, we’ll learn to make different kinds of dumplings!  We’ll have pork, shrimp and vegetable dumplings with three types of wrapper.

After our dumpling class, we will share a special sampling of Chef Chang’s favorite dishes to celebrate the New Year!

There will be dishes for vegetarians, and one of the dumpling options is vegetarian as well.

28276780_1712313752160004_1395348887952946436_n.jpgThe classes will be held on Sunday, March 18th at 11am, and there will be another on Sunday, April 8th, also at 11am.

The price per person is $20 and all children must be accompanied by a paid adult. (No dropping off kids under 14.)

All attendees must book in advance using the below “BUY NOW” buttons. (You can adjust the quantity of attendees on checkout.)



Peter Chang’s restaurant is located at: 1203 Richmond Road in Williamsburg. You can find it on Google maps here.


QUESTIONS?  Please email:  Isabelle (Baoling) Szczerbinski

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Chinese New Year! Peter Chang Dumpling Making Class in Williamsburg!


UPDATE:  Our event was featured on WTVR (CBS) TV News in Richmond!

Today I hosted a dumpling-making class with the famous chef Peter Chang and his wife Lisa. To add to the excitement, the CEO of US CHINA Strong, John Holden, came all the way from Washington, DC to join us!

We talked about US CHINA Strong and its mission, about all the different community courses that are held at William and Mary’s Confucius Institute and then.. dumplings!

We made pork, shrimp and vegetable dumplings with three different kinds of dough, regular, orange (made with carrot) and green (made with spinach).

After Chef and Mrs. Chang taught us how to roll, fill and seal the dumplings, they were cooked for us and served along with an INCREDIBLE New Year lunch which included chicken bao, two kinds of noodle dishes, dry fried sausage, dry fried eggplant, tofu and lotus root (that was AMAZING!), and many more which I can’t remember now. 🙂

Everyone had a great time and enjoyed fantastic food. The class was so popular, the waiting list was four times the size of the class of 30 people!  We will be doing more in the future.

Thank you to Richmond’s CBS TV news anchor Rob Cardwell and his wife Debra, to my French teacher Jay Crowell and his wife Hilary, to Deb Gribben and her family, to Allan Sanders and especially to Deliang Wang from Confucius Institute at William and Mary and Qiang Fu, who runs the Peter Chang restaurant in Williamsburg for making the class so much fun and a big success!!