Surprising Changes in the Last Decade: Family, Career, and Language

Betty Choi and kids - decade in review

Hello friends, I hope you’re having a good start to the new year and decade! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your parenting and teaching stories over the past year! Looking back at last year’s most-read posts, I see that most of you share my passion for raising bilingual children, doing fun activities, and encouraging your child to read.

CHALK Academy Chinese activities, Korean activities, Kids Activities
Top 9 on Instagram

As we enter a new decade, I want to try something knew. I’m kind anxious about opening up, but I wanted to give some background on ups and downs (rock bottom, really) of the last decade – the events that motivated this blog. I have been surprised and humbled to see interest in my family’s stories that I felt nervous to write.

Kids playing and reading in play corner
Kids playing and reading in play corner

While sharing teaching tips and activities is relatively easy for me, talking candidly about life’s unexpected curveballs in front of lots of people is another ball game!

Your comments for Auntie’s Advice on Accents and Memory Journal with Letters to Our Children have given me courage to delve a little deeper.

(If it doesn’t bore you too much, I might try to write more of these posts in the upcoming year.)

My wedding day: Auntie waiting to walk me down the aisle
My wedding day: Auntie waiting to walk me down the aisle

Decade in Review – Faith, Family, and Career

During this decade, I got to fulfill my dreams of becoming a pediatrician, writer, mom, and teacher.

While all of this sounds good on paper, I didn’t know what my purpose in life would be for a long time.

For most of my younger life, I struggled with faith and cultural identity.

During college, my father suffered from cancer.

In 2010, both my mother and grandmother passed away.

2010

While completing my pediatrics training in Boston, I visited my mother in California.

Little did I know I’d never see her again.

A few months later on Mother’s Day, my mom was hit by a car when she was crossing the street.

Despite spending her whole life caring for everyone around her, my mother died traumatically, alone with no family around her.

I took off a few months from work to deal with funerals, selling my parents’ home, the nightmare of probate in 2 states, and the unspeakable grief.

Years prior when my father died of cancer, I was determined to be a doctor. But the irony of being far from my mom when she died made me question everything.

Marrying my best friend
Marrying my best friend

2011

Jason, my long-time fiancee, was my rock through everything.

Realizing life is short and will only get busier, we finally decided to get married.

I’m ashamed to admit – I never imagined marrying someone Asian.

Growing up, I had no Asian friends. The few I knew were bilingual, celebrated Chinese festivals, and seemed so into being…Asian. I couldn’t relate to their lives and felt a lot of Asian guilt around those kids.

Then I met Jason in medical school, and we clicked right away.

Okay, that’s totally an understatement, because it was one of those love-at-first-sight, head-over-heels situations.

Although his parents were Korean, we had so much in common, including hopes for our future family and how we would want to raise them differently.

The rest is history!

2012

We finished residency and moved across the country to California.

I took a job as an attending physician, teaching residents and taking care of children at a busy hospital.

Jason and I also began to attend church and learn about God.

When we were out to lunch one day, Jason looked at me and said, “This is the first time in years that I’ve seen you happy.”

Related: 12 Bible Verses on Faith and Parenting in English, Chinese, and Korean

Me and baby 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child)
Baby 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child)

2013-14

Birth of my daughter

When my daughter was born, my husband was working 100 hours/week. I realized that I could not emotionally and physically return to irregular hospital hours.

I joined a private practice but ultimately hung up my white coat.

After leaving clinical practice for medical writing (e-learning), I carried a lot of guilt for the career change.

But God closes doors so new ones can open.

Our first bilingual nanny

We also hired our first nanny and decided our child’s second language would be whatever best the nanny could speak.

Initially, we had a Cantonese-speaking college graduate who decided the job wasn’t for her.

Then we ended up with the sweetest Korean nanny, a mom of 3 grown daughters, and our multilingual parenting journey began.

She was the role model that I needed during early motherhood, praying for us and providing faith-based reassurance.

Daddy and daughter
My husband and daughter

2015

We moved to our first home in a small, non-diverse Californian town, and I continued my medical writing job from home.

During this year, we had an English-speaking nanny, and my daughter rapidly forgot most Korean words.

Watching her lose a part of her so quickly made me wonder how my late parents felt when I stopped speaking Chinese as a kid.

I regretted that we didn’t have much connection to our heritage, and my children’s only chance was literally through me.

Therefore, I decided to study Mandarin Chinese and teach my daughter whatever I learned.

Transitioning to speaking the minority language was extremely slow and felt awkward most all the time. We mainly spoke English this year.

Baby 老二 (lǎo èr / second child)
Baby 老二 (lǎo èr / second child)

2016

We welcomed the birth of my son, and during maternity leave, I began to speak Chinese more consistently.

A new wonderful nanny joined our family and gradually reintroduced Korean to my daughter.

Related: Raising a Bilingual Baby: 5 Things Parents Should Do

Tracing Chinese characters with dot stickers
Tracing Chinese characters with dot stickers

2017-2019

Creating CHALK Academy

Because I could not find fun Chinese learning resources for my daughter, I started making Chinese printables and other hands-on activities. Also, my husband and most local friends aren’t interested in teaching their kids another language.

So in 2017, I wrote down 6 Compelling Reasons To Blog About Chinese Education and convinced myself to start this blog!

I knew that there were probably other people like my parents who gave up teaching their kids Chinese because they didn’t know how or what resources to use, or just felt nobody cared.

Through this passion project, I got the chance to meet wonderful friends like you! 🙂 This community means the world to me.

Family language milestones

Big milestones include my children speaking Chinese almost as often as English.

Although I still make a lot of mistakes and have a lot to learn, I’ve improved from zero to fairly conversational. I’m also comfortable with switching languages in public without worrying about judgment from strangers.

My son is starting to learn how to read, while my daughter has been reading Chinese chapter books and enjoying copywork for writing practice.

Whenever we hit plateaus, especially with their Korean learning, these videos of my daughter’s Chinese reading progress remind me how far we have come!

Bright, organized, floor-to-ceiling modern home library

Thank you from the bottom of my heart

These unexpected lessons and opportunities have taught me to be humble and grateful for our daily blessings.

It can be hard to see past storms, but there is a beautiful rainbow on the other side.

Sending you lots of love, grace, and encouragement in the new decade!

Blessed new year and decade!

10 Comments

  1. You are an inspiration! Please keep writing. I’ve learned so much from Chalkacademy and am so grateful to have this website so I can have the confidence and resources to raise my children to be bilingual.

  2. Thank you for your sharing. i constantly check on your website for teaching tips. I am grateful to find 同路人 in this teaching Chinese journey.

  3. Betty, what an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing this. Thanks as well for all of the diligent effort you put into each of your posts– here and on social media 🙂 . I really appreciate you making the shift to share more of your story with us–to be perfectly honest, the paper version of you seemed too superhuman for me to relate to! 😉
    Wishing you and your family all the best in 2020!
    -Caelyn

  4. Thank you for sharing your real life story! It’s sooooo touching and encouraging. We really appreciate you being so enthusiastic and selfless when it comes to sharing and promoting Chinese learning. 这个旅程真的不容易,but it’s very rewarding! 你写的blog真的是照福人群!

  5. dear Betty, I am already sooo thankful for your blog; it really was your post about being a nonfluent speaker and teaching your daughter Chinese that compelled me to be serious and intentional about teaching my daughter a minority language (Khmer.) But this post really helped me to see the person behind your blog and the why you do what you do, which is so important, especially when it comes to language learning. So thank you for being vulnerable in sharing your family’s story. I was so saddened to read about the death of your parents. =( I can’t imagine how hard Mother’s Day is for you. I am so thankful that you found Christ and that He can redeem all our brokenness and heartache. My hope is that you can continue to hope in Jesus. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23) Lastly, I didnt realize you did your residency in Boston… Maybe we crossed paths and never knew it. =)

  6. Thank you for sharing your journey, Betty.
    Although we never met, it feels like I know you a little bit from your blog and your journey on teaching languages for your kids.
    I’m really inspired on your work and as you write on your 6 reasons to blog about, you really do to make me feel that I’m not alone during this journey.
    Sending you so much love.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story, I started following you after my husband pointed out that your husband was our resident when we were interns at BI!! I printed out your adorable Chinese and Korean valentines for my son to color for his kindergarten class 🙂 thank you for being an inspiration and for making me feel more confident that we can teach our kids both Korean and Mandarin successfully 🙂

  8. Hi Betty,
    Thank you so much for your blog and resources. I have returned to it often over the years and been lucky enough to get lots of ideas from you. You are such a down to earth woman and so inspirational with all of the hard work you put into your kids’ education! My little baby is one-years-old, I have been trying my best to speak to her in our heritage language of Italian, even though I do not have native fluency. My husband grew up with Vietnamese, but is not fluent in that either. We have been trying our best though to give her the gift of foreign language fluency. Hearing your family’s story is very encouraging to me. Recently, another mom gave me the wonderful idea of becoming a workaway.info host. Before the coronavirus started, we hosted our first workawayer, a young woman from Italy. I specified that I was only interested in hosting young women like myself, and the work I requested was that she talk to us all day in Italian (and we could talk English together in the evenings when my husband was home for her to practice) and just help out around the house. In exchange, she received three meals a day, somewhere to sleep, and was able to go out exploring with or without us. It was a great experience! I enjoyed having someone at home to spend time with and practice my Italian, we exchanged recipes and skills, and having someone to help with the dishes each night was such a relief. I can’t wait to start hosting again once things get back to normal. Anyways, I thought it would be something for you to consider that may help your family (or other parents on this site) with their own foreign language journeys!

  9. Dear Betty,

    I too want to thank you for sharing your personal history and your blog. I too started my daughter on Chinese early on, but I have not encounter anybody who was successful in teaching a minority language. Your blog gave me encouragement to continue. It gave me motivation when I want to quit. I am an ophthalmologist and i left a large multi speciality practice to start my own practice in 2020. Lastly I love all your recommendations and please keep them coming.

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry about your devastating losses of both parents. I cannot even fathom the pain you must have felt. Your story reenforces my drive to teach my children Cantonese and also to honor our culture by practicing the traditions and cooking the foods that remind me of my childhood. Your story is inspiring so thank you again!

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