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When I was asked to write about the influences of literacy, the first fragment of memory that came to my mind was my mom’s story about the Snow Queen at my bedtime. I used to listen to the story again and again, enjoying all the imaginations of Lapland. After jotting down all my early memories, I began to struggle between the two themes—the story taught me the rules to get along with people, and the story aroused my passion to explore the world beyond my city. After recalling my later literary experiences, I set my theme to the latter one. I confirmed the importance of literature to myself by writing the essay. I took all the examinations and chose a tougher way to study abroad because I knew I should and wanted to do so. Since the dream to explore the world outside China is always hanging in my heart, I did not quite notice it before. I am used to living with the dream. But after developing the essay, I also find the answer to myself—why to come to America. I would like to refer to my experience of literature learning as a journey because I tasted all the joy and sorrow on my way. I am enjoying the view along the journey.
Sometime after I came to Miami University, my roommate asked me why I took more than a fifteen-hour flight to study in the United States. I explained to her that maybe I just wanted to be exposed to a different culture and have a chance to see what the world is like outside China. Her question encouraged me to recall my early memories. I asked myself why I had chosen to study so far away from my family. After recalling my path of learning, I found that it is the literature that evoked my passion to travel abroad. The first steps were paved by my mom. She accompanied me through my early literature adventure.
When I was in kindergarten, my mom used to read me Anderson’s fairytales. My favorite tale was “The Snow Queen,” which was about little Gerda’s adventures in Lapland. Gerda’s best friend Kay was taken by the Snow Queen to her castle, so Gerda went all the way through Denmark and Norway to rescue Kay. Soon—miraculously—the Snow Queen’s coldness was melted by the roses Gerda brought. Lapland was the first place I knew besides my own little world, Hangzhou, and my life consisted of these two places. I wished I could have a yard full of blooming roses as Gerda and Kay did. I listened to the tale again and again at bedtime with great curiosity. What were the people with blue eyes, gold hair, and white skin like? What did it feel like to ski? How could a little girl walk such a long way alone? Then I was jealous of Gerda’s wonderful voyage. What if I could also have her courage? A dream to explore beyond my little world was sowed.
As I grew older, I realized that the path of literature was not always flat. I started feeling upset when writing if I could not figure out where or how to cut a broad topic into small and workable pieces; I remained silent when I did not have a clue of how to start and how to end; I kept complaining when I was told to keep a diary about a school life I regarded as pale and dull. I reserved my writing assignments for late Sunday nights, when I had to finish them, because I knew my parents would give me some hints at the last minute to help me go to bed at an appropriate time. I waited to be told the ideas. I was overwhelmed by the immense guilt of being passive. Fortunately, the guilty feeling was lessened due to my parents’ great efforts. They usually read through my reading assignments for the week and brought me to the local parks and even to scenic spots in other cities like Hainan, Beijing, and Dalian to search for inspiration. We went to the northern part of China in the winter to search for a trace of spring under the thick snow cover; we enjoyed sunbathing and the fun chasing baby crabs along the beaches in the summer; we planted tulips in the fall and waited for the colorful flowers to come out the following year. Steadily, I found objects to describe and strong emotions to express, so I began to finish my work earlier. Keeping a diary during the school year when we had to follow a strict timetable to repeat the same routine every day seems an unobtainable task at first. However, I found it was a way to get an insight of the outside world and to discover the beauty hidden in the corners of my journey. Maybe this is the true essence of life—if we taste it carelessly, we will find it is like tasteless water; if we taste it with all our hearts, we will find it is like sweet champagne. The dream to see the outside world became very exciting.
After so many years of waiting, the dream finally came true. My life at Miami is all I imagined. Learning to speak a second language introduces to other ideas about literacy that are so different from my own. In my English class, we collected The New York Times to look for interesting articles. Instead of being led by the instructors, we have more freedom to choose what interests us and research topics deeply. In China, teachers expect us to memorize a great many idioms and masterpieces of ancient Chinese, which we can use in our writing to show how knowledgeable we are. But the teachers in America care more about our own opinions in our essays and how we develop our thesis. My English instructor’s suggestions pointed out the different concepts toward writing in China and America. In our first writing assignments, many of us chose to quote directly, and some of us even used many direct quotations in a single paragraph. My English instructor recommended we use our own words to summarize the author’s main idea instead of quoting directly and to include more details describing our ideas. I knew teachers in China would definitely have encouraged us to quote directly. Appreciation of my own thoughts stimulates me to pay more attention to the events happening around me, and to think critically about both sides of events. Through reading The New York Times, I can keep in touch with the world beyond Oxford. I hope one day I can visit Finland, and record all my adventures. In the far North Pole whether the snow season lasts for more than two hundred days, the aboriginal settlers, the reindeers, the flourishing forests, the crystal lakes, and the dancing snowflakes must be purified by the thick snow cover. I promised myself I could travel to the Holy Land to admire the Northern Lights. Someday in the thick of snow overlay, I will leave my footprint.
Some days later, my interdisciplinary teacher asked the same question my roommate did—why I had come to America. I explained that there is a dream to explore the world hanging in my heart, and I am still on my way. I know the passion and confidence will never fade away. Unlike little Gerda’s adventures crossing northern Europe, my life at Miami is not like a fairytale. But I have the nerve to overcome the difficulties, because I know I am another Gerda—a Gerda who has all the courage in to travel along the toughest way. I believe I can, since the experience of reading and writing will always be with me.