When I came to Pomona, I was determined to learn Chinese. First semester was super rough. Whenever it was my turn to read something aloud in class, I was embarrassed and flustered. So imagine how even more embarrassed and flustered I would be in conversations. (Un)luckily for me, language learners must eat at the Oldenborg Dining Hall a certain amount of times each semester, and I used to dread going. Initially, I would only go on Wednesdays, which is when there is a beginners’ table for Chinese.
Even though now I go two to three times a week and enjoy it (I don’t need no beginners’ table!), I present to you some high-stress moments I experienced at first (and still kinda do, lol).
1) When you’re sitting next to your professor and/or language resident
I’ll be honest, I totally blanked on whatever you taught us in class today (and basically this whole week), so when you’re using the new vocabulary, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Also, I’m even more nervous because I feel like this exchange is graded or something even though it’s not.
2) When you’re sitting with a bunch of fluent speakers
I ask everyone “Ni jiao shenme mingzi? (What is your name?)” out of courtesy, then I silently eat while watching them talk and joke and laugh, and I laugh along and nod my head as if I understand even though I don’t what they said at all — oh shoot, maybe they were joking about me.
3) When you have no friends to sit with
Having no friends to sit with in normal dining halls can sometimes be pretty awkward. In Oldenborg it’s even worse. It’s so small that you don’t really have the option to sit alone and look at your phone screen the whole time like. You have to talk to people. And in another language.
4) When you ask someone to repeat what they said multiple times
I definitely did not understand what you said for the third time, but I’ll just say, “Mmm, dui.”
5) When you’re trying to eat as quickly as possible
I eat the fastest when I’m in Oldenborg. If I’m with good friends I don’t mind staying for the whole hour. But if I’m friendless, at a table with fluent speakers who are all friends with each other, I want to get out ASAP. Sometimes I finish eating in 15 minutes without speaking a word of Chinese, something I consider a huge achievement when it probably shouldn’t be.
Even if eating at Oldenborg can be stressful on occasion, overall, I cherish my Oldenborg lunches. My favorite days to go are Fridays—I have no afternoon classes, there are generally fewer people, one or two of my friends usually join me on that day, and Oldenborg is the closest open dining hall to my dorm so of course my too-lazy-to-go-to-Frary bum goes to eat there.
Next year I’ll be living at Oldenborg, which I suppose I’m excited about because now I’m even closer to a dining hall and can more easily take a nap after lunch! YAY NAPS!