A summer without subtitles: One student’s eight week plunge into an intensive language program

By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor

Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Miller

Signing away your right to speak English for eight weeks doesn’t sound like the best way to spend a summer.

But Mackenzie Miller did just that.

On her first day of avoiding English, Miller casually greeted her classmate with a simple, “Good morning!”

Oops. Switching to full-time Chinese is easier said than done.

Miller kept a blog to document her intensive eight-week Chinese language program at Middlebury College in Vermont.

“Not only are we learning a language, but we are also opening the door to a new culture and a new appreciation for the world that God created,” she wrote in her last blog post. “And it’s beautiful. Breathtaking.”

From reading and writing Chinese to cooking traditional Chinese dumplings, Miller, a sophomore, spent her summer immersed in Chinese language and culture. The Middlebury Language Chinese School thrust Miller into a summer of fear, stress, anxiety, but also excitement.

Despite fear, she persisted.

Despite stress, she learned.

Despite anxiety, she grew.

A few weeks after finishing her freshman year at Hesston, Miller packed her bags for Middlebury and moved into another dorm room for more homework, lectures, and learning.

A week of Chinese class in college would be crammed into one day, Miller says. 

A traditional Chinese meal prepared by the teachers at Middlebury. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Miller

“I often had a hard time falling asleep at night just because my mind was still functioning in Chinese and translating all my thoughts.”

But before she knew it, speaking Chinese became instinct.

“As the weeks went by, it got harder and harder for me to speak English,” she said. “I would accidentally speak Chinese to people off campus and they would have no idea.”

Fun activities during her free time included exploring the small town of Middlebury. The school also organized weekend activities such as hiking or swimming.

Students even put on a talent show in Chinese. Imagine hearing the tune of Backstreet Boys’ Bye Bye Bye sung in Chinese. “China Night” boasted the skills of the Chinese students. Miller emceed.

She tried Tai Chi and a cooking class, with mixed reviews.

“While I was really bad, and I mean really bad, at Tai Chi, cooking class was so fun,” Miller said. “We made dumplings one class period and that was my favorite class time.”

With just two days to spare, Miller flew back to Hesston to start her second year of college. She was back to the routine of normal schooling with little time to process her summer.

Mackenzie Miller poses with some of her Middlebury classmates. Around 100 students participated in the multi-level program. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Miller

Looking back now, her confidence in speaking Chinese grew, she said. She misses speaking it so much that she sometimes talks to herself in Chinese.

Now she doesn’t have to.

Miller will continue practicing her Chinese with Jane Wang, a sophomore from China.

But she learned more than just language mechanics.

Language learning has exposed her to the beautiful richness and diversity around our world, Miller says.

“While there is so much cultural hate and racial tension in our world, over 100 people came together this summer to celebrate culture, and I think that was God. I know even more now that culture is my drug. I love it.”

Miller’s love for culture and diversity is something she hopes to show others.

“Language is just the first step to building bridges between other cultures,” Miller says. “Middlebury helped me start opening that door.”

Read Mackenzie Miller’s weekly blog documenting her adventure at Middlebury to experience more of her story:



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