Tasmin is from Huntington Beach, CA and an alumna of the Chinese 2020 Virtual Summer Intensive program.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in the NSLI-Y Mandarin Virtual Summer Intensive. Our classes were conducted online, with a small group of NSLI-Y students and an instructor from Nanjing University. We had study partners and conversational practice, in addition to classes. One of the highlights of the program was the weekly cultural appreciation lesson. Topics ranged from paper cutting to Chinese opera to campus life at a Chinese university.

Of all the cultural appreciation lessons, I found the wonton soup cooking demonstration to be the most fun. In the lesson, the teacher described the history and origins of wontons. She then discussed the wonton soup recipe and provided examples of common wonton filling ingredients. We also watched videos on the different ways to wrap wontons. To conclude the lesson, the teacher demonstrated the entire process from her kitchen.

Two dumplings stuffed and rolled

The demonstration inspired me to try making wonton soup on my own, despite my lack of experience in the kitchen. After searching for and reviewing different wonton soup recipes, I found one that looked manageable. I am lucky to have access to local Asian grocery stores, where I was able to find all of the necessary ingredients, such as wonton wrappers, ginger root, and Chinese cooking wine. When it came time to wrap the wontons, I initially struggled to put in the right amount of filling. It was also a challenge to master the skill of folding wontons. I was proud of the fact that none of the wontons came apart while cooking. My parents and I devoured the soup, and there weren’t any leftovers. My first foray into Chinese cooking was a success!

Tasmin's home made wonton soup

Cultural classes may seem like “fluff,” but they are actually an essential part of acquiring a new language. They kept us engaged and helped expose us to practical vocabulary while advancing our conversational skills. Cultural understanding is just as important as becoming fluent in the language in order to participate effectively in the global economy.