Tby Andrew Donnelly ’20
The moment Frank Mattimoe ’18 stepped off his 20-hour flight to the land of the Red Dragon, he knew he was in for a big change.
Mattimoe had traveled to Shanghai, China along with 24 other American students as part of a scholarship program known as the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y). Each year, the initiative, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, selects around 100 high-school applicants to thoroughly explore the Chinese culture and foster well-informed perspectives along the way. Frank was one student chosen out of a competitive applicant pool of nearly 4,000. Every student was required to take a pledge to speak only the native language of Mandarin during their six weeks overseas.
“I took a leap deciding to study Chinese at Chaminade,” Frank said before the trip. “Now, I’m so thankful to implement my language skills abroad.”
Needless to say, he was up to the challenge.
Frank’s cultural education would extend far beyond simply the land’s native tongue. He fully immersed himself in his new place of study by staying with a host family for two of his six weeks in China and in a dorm room for the rest of the time. Learning to adapt to life in Shanghai, a 750-year old city halfway around the world, was daunting at first. Nearly everything was different, from the scorching-hot weather – at one point it reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit – to the food, which is very different from the Chinese cuisine we are familiar with here in New York (although, Frank did say he thoroughly enjoyed the food trucks in China, which included squid, Chinese fried chicken and chou doufu, or “stinky tofu”).
In particular, Frank was struck by the fact that the streets of Shanghai, the most populated city in China with 24 million residents, were significantly more crowded than those in the United States, even in big cities like New York.
Perhaps the most tedious adjustment for Frank in the early stages of his trip was the time difference – Shanghai is twelve hours ahead of New York. Naturally, Frank was exhausted, but fulfilled, after each busy day.
“For the first few nights, I was so tired that I’d fall asleep by 9:00,” Frank said.
Frank explained that he awoke each morning determined to absorb as much of his new surroundings as possible. Along with traveling to Shanghai, he toured the famous cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Zhujiajiao, also known as the “Venice of China.” He visited plenty of monuments and attractions within these cities. Among his favorites were the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower and the Confucian Temple. The 1,535-foot-tall Pearl Tower, which functions as a radio and television broadcast structure, was built in 1994 and remains one of the more impressive and prominent landmarks in all of China. The beautiful Confucian Temple, meanwhile, commemorates the great philosopher and teacher Confucius, aside from being one of Shanghai’s most serene attractions.
Frank credits his eloquence in Mandarin and his passion for Chinese culture to Mr. Gregory Walsh, his Chinese teacher at Chaminade.
“Frank dives right into things like this,” Mr. Walsh said of his student. “He has enriched my classroom not only through his academic dedication, but also his desire to share his passion with his classmates.”
Throughout his travels, Frank practiced his Chinese often, and he said that having a positive experience was contingent on his ability to communicate effectively in Mandarin. He had to navigate his way around using only his second language, which allowed his to skills develop rapidly during the trip. For the development of their communication skills – and simply for fun – Frank and his peers went to local markets to bargain for goods. Frank left Shanghai a more proficient Chinese speaker, but he also returned from the booming metropolis with incredible “real-life” experiences. He had to learn to be independent and responsible in a vast, bustling, foreign city.
“Some things that this trip helped me with the most were maturity and self-reliance,” Frank reflected. “It not only developed me as a student of Chinese, but also as a person.”
The overseas stay certainly helped Frank become a more confident Chinese speaker. He has already demonstrated a strong understanding of the language at Chaminade and as a participant in the highly selective NSLI-Y program. Now, however, he has gone beyond the books; he is comfortable holding entire conversations in Mandarin, a rare skill among students in the U.S. today.
It is said that experience is life’s best teacher, and Frank’s progress is certainly evidence of that. The time he spent exploring the Chinese culture firsthand provided him with more knowledge than any sort of class or similar resource could have.
Frank hopes to return to Shanghai soon through a New York University undergraduate program which is stationed there.
“I am confident [Frank] will take advantage of every opportunity abroad, as he has already done here in the States, to grow as a scholar and budding ambassador,” said Mr. Walsh.
One particular lesson Frank learned in his time overseas was that we all should take advantage of the opportunities we are given and set ambitious goals for ourselves. Frank says that we should not be afraid to pursue what we are most passionate about. Indeed, much can be gained if you follow your heart – if you persist towards whatever it is you have in mind, just as Frank did.
“If anyone is interested in Chinese culture and language, this program is definitely something to work towards,” said the senior.
But perhaps more importantly, as he pointed out, it’s all about finding oneself in the people and places he encounters.
“I basically fell in love with China at school and decided to immerse myself in its culture and language,” explained Frank. “And that’s one of best decisions I’ve ever made.”