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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Chengdu Middle School Presentation


Thanks to my good friend from the William and Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI),  Qiong Yang, I was able to visit the Chengdu Middle School in September 2017 and I did a presentation and Q/A session for the class. I spoke only Mandarin, which was a neat experience!

I talked about life in the US and the students shared about their lives in Chengdu. We weren’t that different. They played video games, sports, did music or dance after school.
I asked them what they wanted people in America to know about kids in China, and like most kids anywhere, they shouted, “HOMEWORK! All we do is homework!”  I think they wanted their teacher to hear that, as she was standing next to me. 🙂

Some of the kids played Minecraft and we swapped userids so that we could try to play together. One of my friends, Emily, whose mom arranged the presentation, was a student in the class. You can see her here:


She is an amazing musician! She plays the Chinese zither, called the ‘guzheng’ and has been playing for many years. When she was in the US, she did some performances for large audiences. She’s my good friend and I’m really glad we met!

After the presentation and question session, the kids honored me by walking me to the school gate. We walked down stairs that had quotes from the famous Chinese poet Du Fu. The school was named for him and the Du Fu museum (which we visited afterward) was down the street.


The kids were having a great time and so was I. At the beginning they applauded practically every sentence of mine, which was very flattering! They asked so many  questions and we all laughed a lot!


This was one of the best days ever, thanks to Qiong Yang and her daughter Emily and her husband, Gang. I’ll never forget it!   I would love to visit more classrooms in China and make more friends.  BEST. DAY. EVER!!!!

The school posted information and photos from my presentation on their WeChat blog. Its in Mandarin, and you can read it here.


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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 Cooking Class – April 8



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!!

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My Journey as A Student of The Chinese Language and Culture

My journey began six long years ago, at age five.


I visited a new Chinese restaurant with my parents and was mesmerized by the chef who was tossing fresh noodle strands all around the open kitchen. He smiled at me, and I started to speak with him. I tried to ask him questions about how he was able to take a large ball of dough and turn it into fine noodles by pulling and stretching and throwing.  He answered, but I could not understand him.  The owner explained that he’d just arrived from China and didn’t yet understand English.

On the ride home, I asked my parents if I could learn to speak Chinese.  I loved the food, the décor, and I felt sorry for the chef that couldn’t communicate with his neighbors. My parents agreed to find me a Chinese teacher and this was the beginning of my wonderful journey of discovery and learning.


Soon after this event, our family moved to Richmond, Virginia and I started taking lessons in Mandarin for 4 hours/week, plus homework.  I was able to start watching cartoons and movies that were entirely in Mandarin.  “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” was an early favorite of mine, as was “Big Head Son and Little Head Dad”.  I loved the silly cartoons which were very different than anything I’d seen before and I was happy that I could understand the dialogue.   I am now able to understand and enjoy Chinese books and movies and recently saw “The Mermaid”, “Monster Hunt,” and many others.

I joined the Confucius Institute of the College of William and Mary and was able to take my learning to the next level.  They had cooking classes with famous chef Peter Chang, and I was able to learn so much from him, prepare dishes with him and translate some of his comments to the class. (Chef Chang spoke only in Mandarin).  I became friends with Chef Chang and his wife, Lisa, and they delivered a wonderful class in making dumplings for me and my friends. I have learned so much from Chef Chang; About life in Hubei, Szechwan cuisine and its ‘ma-la’ seasoning (spicy and numbing), and how to prepare so many of his recipes.


Each year, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts puts on an annual China Fest in Richmond.  I was able to volunteer to help with the calligraphy station with the Confucius Institute. Learning calligraphy was great fun; It’s such a beautiful art and I fell in love with it.  It was also a great experience sharing it with all of the visitors who stopped by the WMCI booth and had their names written in traditional Chinese.

CIUSVOlunteer (2)

At the VMFA, some people from CCTV overheard me speaking Mandarin. They seemed pretty excited and asked me if I would do an interview with them, and I agreed. I was then interviewed, entirely in Mandarin, by the Chinese television network.  The interviewer told me that she couldn’t believe how good my accent was, which I took as a great compliment.

Through the Confucius Institute, I have attended several Mid-Autumn Festival parties, concerts of traditional music, a Kung Fu and Tai Chi exhibition and have taken (and passed) five of the YCT Exams. (I plan to take my final YCT this year and then work on mastering all of the HCT exams.)

One of the WMCI teachers, Qiong Yang, and I have become great friends. She has taught me calligraphy and even got me a personalized signature stamp from China! I play often with her daughter, Yangyang, who is my closest friend and with whom I speak both Mandarin and English.  Both Yangyang and her mom have taught me so much about China and I am grateful to have them as friends and teachers.


I have tried my best to share the love I have for the Chinese language with others. Recently, I was invited by a group called the JNCL-NCLIS to help lobby Congress for more funds for language education in public schools. (JNCL-NCLIS stands for Joint National Committee for Languages – National Council for Languages and International Studies, and yes, I had to look that up!) I got to meet with the staff of Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner and my Congressman Dave Brat.  They were all really open to the idea of increasing spending on language learning after I presented them with many facts about the benefits of speaking a foreign language!

Once I returned from The Capitol, I started working as a volunteer Camp Counselor at the W&M Confucius Institute’s Spring Break Camp!  I’m enjoying learning from the counselors and helping to teach the other kids.


Learning about the Chinese language and culture has opened so many doors for me!  I’ve made wonderful friends, tasted and prepared delicious foods, appeared on several television shows, learned about the history of China, practiced calligraphy and other arts which originated in China, met Senators and Congressmen and am now preparing for a 3-week tour of China!  I hope to make many new friends and learn even more and see all the unique sights.

It’s funny to think that this journey all began with noodles!


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Hiking the Great Wall at Simatai


This was the most exhausting of all of my days in China, but also one of the most memorable!

We signed up for a tour and luckily we were the only ones! It was just us and our tour guide, Candy. She knew so much about The Great Wall and its history!

We chose to go to Simatai because the section of the wall nearest to Beijing, Badaling, is supposed to be really crowded, really touristy and mostly rebuilt. We wanted to see The Wall without the crowds and unrestored.

Simatai is about a two hour drive from Beijing and about halfway into the drive you start to feel like youre in the countryside. It’s very pretty!

We parked at the foot of a large hill and couldnt really see anything. But after about a half hour of climbing, there it was! The pictures don’t really show how huge and beautiful the Wall is.



There weren’t any people on the wall that we could see. It was like we had it all to ourselves! It was a big surprise when in one of the guard towers in the above picture, there was a woman selling t-shirts and water!  A few minutes after we arrived, there was a small group from Germany and a guy from Brasil.

P1020479The hiking was a little hard, we all were sweaty and tired at the end, but it was totally worth it! I would go back in a second!

After we climbed down the mountain, there was a little village at the bottom.


And it had several cannons, but most importantly at that time…


It had a great restaurant! We all ate a LOT. And it was tasty!


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Being a Youth Ambassador for US-ChinaStrong


“The US-China Strong Foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to strengthen US-China relations by investing in a new generation of leaders who have the knowledge and skills to engage with China. Established in 2013 as the 100,000 Strong Foundation – and relaunched in 2016 as the US-China Strong Foundation – the organization leads a national movement to ensure the next generation of US leaders is equipped to engage effectively with China: a global strategic power, the second largest economy in the world and America’s fastest growing trade partner.”

USCS has three main missions. They are:

  • 1 Million Strong: a campaign to see the number of students in America studying Mandarin in grades K-12 grow to 1,000,000 by the year 2020. Currently, only about 200,000 students in the US are learning Mandarin. (Some estimates show the number of Chinese students studying English at 300 million!).
  • 100,000 Strong: a campaign to increase and diversify the number or US students who travel to China to study each year. This was the original mission of the Foundation, formed under President Obama in 2009.
  • US-China Alumni Network: this campaign aims to “build an online community
    of students and young professionals who understand China” and connects US and Chinese students and other 100K Strong Alumni.

This year, I was invited to become a Student Ambassador for USCS, and I accepted immediately! I think the work they do is very important, and we need to do as much as we can to help motivate kids to learn Mandarin (and other languages too!).

As an Ambassador, I have agreed to do three projects in my first year to advance the causes of the Foundation. The projects are

  1. This blog!  ( was started to help share my experiences in China and my stories learning about China and Chinese culture.
  2. A Community Outreach Program: I will be hosting and translating a dumpling-making class at Peter Chang Restaurant in Williamsburg. Before the event, I will be sharing information about both US-China Strong and the William and Mary Confucius Institute’s community programs with the attendees.  You can see the official announcement here:
  3. Teaching At A Local School! : I’m very excited about this!  I will be going to Woodville Elementary school in Richmond and doing an after-school class on China and its culture for 2nd and 3rd graders later this year! We will do some letter-writing, we’ll read a book and learn some basic conversation. Can’t wait!

I’m very proud to have been given this opportunity and I’ll be blogging about each event here. Thanks for reading!!


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My Friend, Yahan, and the Guzheng


Professor Qiong Yang was working at the William and Mary Confucius Institute up until this summer, when she returned to China with her family. While she was here, I became great friends with her, her husband Gang and her daughter, Yahan, who I call Emily or sometimes Yangyang.

When I visited Chengdu, I got to do a presentation for Yahan’s class (that’s her  in the above picture) and she helped out a lot! She is a really good friend and I’m glad I met her!

Yahan is also a child prodigy on the Chinese zither, which is called the “guzheng.” She started learning how to play when she was only five years old! With her teacher’s instruction and Yahan’s hard work, she won many awards in music contests all over her hometown of Chengdu.  She did so well that she received a special grade of “10” which is the highest possible ranking for an amateur musician when she was only 9 years old!

The guzheng is a very old instrument – it’s been around for over 2,500 years! It has 16 strings and bridges which move! It looks really difficult to play!

Here is a video of one of her performances at William and Mary Confucius Institute:

And another, called “Fishing Songs on the East Sea”:

and another:

She is a fantastic musician and I’m very lucky to call her and her parents my friends!


Yahan would love to do performances for cultural centers in the USA!

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Chengdu Panda Research Center (!)

i LOVED this place! It is definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Chendu! This is not just a very large park with loads of giant pandas and red pandas, but, like the name says, it’s a research center and educational facility too!


The official website is here.  You can read all about the different programs, including one where you can actually pet and be photographed with a baby panda. We heard that they were kind of rough and not as cuddly as you can imagine, plus you have to wear a hospital gown and latex gloves, so we didn’t do that.


We were told to get there early, as the pandas are most active in the morning. But, that was not the case! We got up late and got there late, but the pandas were very active and playful and fun!!



It’s hard to show in these photos, but the place was really big. It’s not just one little enclosed area with a few pandas.

For absolute cuteness, the baby pandas win! But you have to look at them from behind a thick glass wall and they just sleep a lot. They look more like plush toys!


The education center was really modern and very informative. Lots and lots of different hands-on exhibits. You could spend a couple of hours there if you had the time!


The red panda (Shifu, from Kung Fu Panda), is harder to find in the trees, but we saw a couple!

And finally, here’s a short video of one of the pandas munching on some bamboo!

This place is FANTASTIC!!  🙂

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The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an


I was really excited about visiting the “Emperor Qin Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum” aka The Terracotta Warriors!  I’d seen several documentaries and read about the warriors – even in my local newspaper, as there was a visiting exhibition at the Virginia Fine Arts Museum scheduled for 2018.

Emperor Qin was the first emperor of China and he was buried with hundreds of clay sculptures in approximately 200 BC! There are several buildings you can visit each with archeological digs and a museum too. The place is huge! The photos I’ve seen of it before my visit didn’t convey just how big it is!


This photo can hopefully give you some idea of how big this place is! If you look on the right or left, you can see visitors looking into the pit. The whole building is at least as big as a football field.


This is the view when you pass through the main doors of the largest building. What you can’t see is that from where the photo was taken were hundreds of people all trying to get a great photo.


Just after you enter the building and round the first corner, you can see the statues up close and you can tell that all of the statutes are different! They weren’t all just stamped out of one mold. Everyone was unique!  The horses too.


You can tell a warriors rank from the shoes they are wearing! If the toes curved upward, then they were more important, higher-ranking soldiers.  Looking down the row above, you can see the entrance into the mausoleum midway to the right.


The heads and bodies were cast separately.


The above two photos were taken in a different building from the main dig.

The Terracotty Army was discovered in 1974 by a local farmer, Yang Zhifa. He is still alive and you can meet him (for a small fee!).

I still cant believe that this was created in 200 BC!


They also do a lot of restoration and behind me is a section of warriors being repaired.

For more information on the Terracotta Warriors, you can visit the National Geographic page here.