Ivy Gerrell found her passion by accident.
As a ninth-grader, she was nervous about her second year of Spanish, so her mom advised her to choose a different foreign language. Going against what her peers and others told her, she chose Chinese.
“It really led me down a path to where I am now,” Ivy, who lives in Gainesville, said.
Since that first class, 18-year-old Ivy has been taking classes both at Gainesville High School and the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus to master the Chinese language.
She can now speak, read and write it fluently.
“At first it was easier. Now that I’m getting into the more complicated parts, like grammar, it’s a lot harder,” Ivy said.
In the summer after Ivy’s 10th-grade year, she went to Furman University for a two-week intensive program called StarTalk.
In that program, Ivy had to speak Chinese from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sunday and had around four hours of homework each night. On weekends the students would go out for cultural activities.
The next year she went to the University of Mississippi for a monthlong program.
“It was also a lot harder. There was way more work,” Ivy said.
Now, the teen is gearing up for her longest and hardest program yet.
She was chosen out of hundreds to study in China for six weeks this summer. Ivy had applied for the program in her sophomore and junior year but never made it past the semi-finals.
She will split her time living in dorms and with a host family and will be in class three hours a day.
She also has a curfew of 6:30 p.m. so she can work on her assignments, which have already started.
But Ivy isn’t bothered by the work.
She’s most concerned about customs there.
“There’s no sense of personal space,” she said. “People stand (close) to you and talk.”
Ivy said she also heard of a girl who visited China and had someone tell her she needed to use an umbrella so her skin didn’t get darker.
“I’m just mentally preparing myself for all of that,” she said.
When she gets back from China, she’ll be attending the University of Mississippi as a student in the Chinese Flagship Program and will enroll in the school’s Air Force ROTC for four years.