Overcoming Stage Fright (in Chinese!)

Zoe Gillbard '14 is taking part in the Chinese Summer Language Institute (CSLI@EFZ) at Peddie's sister school, EFZ in Shanghai, China.

If I tried to explain all of the experiences I've been having, all of the emotions which have been bubbling up inside of me, and all of the revalations I've had in the last three weeks, I would do it at risk of sounding completely insincere and almost totally fake. I say this because I myself am having trouble believing that I could have grown as much as I have and experienced such incredible things here in Shanghai. Trying to write them down in my journal, attempting to share my trials and tribulations with my parents over the phone and skype, and even just looking back over my photos, I am continually at a lossfor words to describe my feelings. Being truthful and sincere, without sounding sappy, is going to be difficult; please bear with me as I relive a few moments of the trip, and believe me when I say that my words are coming straight from my heart and are as honest and true as they could ever be.

The first moment I would like to share actually began as the worst case of stage fright I have ever experienced in my life. As the other students have talked about in their entries, we went to a science and technology expo last weekend. At first, we were all intimidated by the projects many students had brought to share, but we gradually warmed up to the challenge of representing our school and country, and doing our own personal best.

On the first night we spent at Shanghai High School, Ms. Jiang sent me to represent Peddie in a rehearsal for the opening ceremonies. At the rehearsal, they told me that I would be interviewed in front of the hundreds of people who were to attend the next day, and that I should prepare myself to answer questions (although when I asked what kind of questions, they didn't tell me...just that I had to prepare!). Standing on stage in a giant semi-circle, all the representatives turned their eyes to me: the first of four interviewees. I was asked a few easy questions concerning my country of origin, all of which were in English.

Suddenly, I heard a question I had not been expecting: "So we hear you can speak some Chinese. Would you like to say a few words for us?"

There was a silence that, in my mind, lasted hours, and the only thing I could feel was my pulse pounding through my entire body. I am not a person who gets nervous in front of crowds, but when faced with the question of my language skills as well as a large group of people, I wanted to run and hide. I said a quick Chinese greeting, and pushed the microphone away. I was so incredibly frightened, unprepared, and suprised all at once, and it resulted in me feeling completely embarrassed. A few minutes later, they started the ceremony from the beginning to rehearse again, and I decided that it was important that I keep calm and say something more interesting or relevant. This time, prepared, I told the host and the almost empty expo hall how much I love Shanghai. The students on stage broke into applause. I felt better, but I knew that talking on camera the next day and in front of so many people... it would be like nothing I had ever experienced before.

The next day, I sat in the front row of the audience, next to my new English friend Denni, silently remembering exactly what I was going to say. Every so often I turned to Denni, expressing my nervousness with an "I can't do it." She responded that she knew I would be fine, and it would be over soon enough. After an incredibly colorful and elaborate program of traditional Chinese dancing, the delegates were called up onto the stage. I felt my knees wanting to give out beneath me, but I looked around the semi-circle of international faces, people I had only just met but felt so close to already, and I knew that we were all worried about how we were representing our countries, schools, and families. When the microphone appeared in front of me, and I was asked to speak Chinese, I looked straight out into the crowd and said:

(I am very happy to have the opportunity to participate in this activity. I really like China, and I especially love Shanghai. Thank you everyone!).

Halfway through, the crowd began applauding for me. I felt so incredibly proud to have been able to speak to everyone in the language of the foreign country I was in, and under so much pressure too! I don't believe I have ever felt stage fright like that before, and I doubt I ever will again. It felt worthwile to have studied Chinese, if only to speak to that crowd of people for the 30 seconds I did so, because they were so happy that a foreigner had taken the time and energy to gain an understanding of a language so different from her mother tongue.

The rest of the expo was a blast, and I made so many friends from all over the world. Even though we only spent a few days together, I found myself promising the students from Ireland and England that the next time I go to visit my family, I will make a side trip to see them. I promised the kids from Austrailia, Finland, and Singapore I would come and visit them in their home countries as well. How strange it was to make friends from a variety of countries, in Shanghai of all places!

Yesterday, along with the kids from another international camp who are currently living at EFZ, we visited the Oriental Pearl Tower in the center of downtown Shanghai. Similar to the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, or the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Oriental Pearl Tower (东方名族) is a famous place from which you can view the rest of the city. After a short elevator ride, we arrived at a slowly rotating restaurant, 260 meters above the ground, with the most breathtaking view of the city. Our table started out in front of the Shanghai World Financial Center (the third tallest building in the world), but by the time we had finished our meal, the table had rotated almost 180 degrees around to the other side of the tower. Julia and I stood on the ledge, with our faces up against the window, trying to see the ending of the sky scrapers and high rise apartments. The buildings go on as far as the eye can see, surrounded by the rivers of Shanghai and the blue skies and white clouds we were so lucky to be experiencing. Another moment of infinity and peace. Just completely breathtaking.

Yesterday evening, after a lovely dinner, Mr. Gao and our other teacher, Ms. Ding, took us to walk along The Bund. We went to the Puxi side, and looked across to the gorgeous yellow lights of the Old City of Shanghai. The buildings in the European style seemed to float in the Guang Pu River as boats covered in string lights passed by. It was a mesmerizing sight. The last time I stood on the banks of the Guang Pu, it was almost freezing, and our glances at the lights had to be fleeting ones because we had to wrap our scarves around our faces for fear of getting frost bite. This was a different experience. All of us were fanning ourselves and wiping at our faces, but enjoying the view none the less.

Julia, Philip, and I decided that it would be fun to get our picture professionally taken along the side of the river in traditional Chinese clothing. Julia and I donned the traditional Chinese full-length silk dresses, barely able to breath because of the oppressive heat, and Phil put on a full length wool trench coat and hat. We posed on the edge in an ancient looking rickshaw, drawing a crowd of maybe 30 people who came to watch our photoshoot. We couldn't stop laughing and smiling, complaining about the heat all the while, but not actually caring one bit because we were having such fun.

I feel as though that last experience is the biggest challenge in travel and even in life in general; getting past some of the discomfort just because you are doing something for the pure joy and experience of having done it. It was also how I felt at the expo, in front of all those people. At the time, I was scared out of my mind, but the happiness came flooding in right afterwards. It's quite cliche, but oh so true; facing your fears is so difficult, but it is the key to being able to learn and experience. I have faced a lot of fears, from eating bull frog and sea snail, to standing on a glass floor hundreds of feet off the ground, to making new friends using forgeign languages who come from very different cultures. My heart almost physically feels like it is overflowing and my mind seems to have been exercised to the point of exhaustion.

I hope I have properly conveyed my rollercoaster ride of emotions, and given a truthful image of but a few lasting memories.