Mandarin Immersion Senior Profile: Alyssa Kolbeck

The Capistrano Valley Class of 2024 will include the first ever graduates of the Mandarin Immersion Program. CUSD Insider asked the seniors to reflect on their time with the program and share what they have planned for after graduation.

Alyssa Kolbeck

Alyssa Kolbeck of the Mandarin Immersion Program at Capistrano Valley High.
Photo by Steven Georges/CUSD Insider


When did you start in the Mandarin Immersion Program?

2011- First grade

Why did you join the Mandarin Immersion Program?

I joined the Mandarin Immersion Program to gain an immersive understanding of my cultural heritage. My grandparents immigrated from China, and my mom, feeling disconnected from her culture after she wasn’t enrolled in language classes, took up the opportunity to give my sisters and I a different upbringing. The program couples cultural understanding with immersion of the language across a variety of subjects. The first five years of the program saw elementary level math and history curriculum taught in Mandarin, giving students a solid foundation in the language before moving into more modern and applicable topics. In retrospect, the Mandarin Immersion Program provided me with a family at school. Partnered with the same 30people since first grade, I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by a group of people I am confident will remain my friends far into my future. The Mandarin Immersion program is more than a curriculum; it is a family.

What are your plans after you graduate from CUSD?

After graduating from CUSD, I plan to attend a four-year university, and earn my Bachelor’s Degree in aerospace and aeronautical engineering. From there, depending on the opportunities that arise, I will either pursue a Master’s Degree , or I will directly apply myself to the professional field. In either scenario, I expect to put my 12 years of Chinese to use better connecting China with the United States in the realm of space exploration and travel.

What other activities were you involved with in high school?

High school was a chaotic experience. I believe a well-rounded education builds a well-rounded individual, and my course load was reflective of such. I spent four years applying myself to extracurricular activities both inside and outside of the classroom.

In addition to challenging myself through the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate program, I am a four-year member of Capo’s Symphony Orchestra. I am also a student athlete; I dedicated four years of after school practice to cross country and track and field. I am captain of the pole vault team, and had the privilege of acting as captain of the distance and cross country team for 2.5 consecutive years. I have also been a contributing member of the varsity team for three years. I also actively participate in community-based clubs and activities courtesy of my school. I am a four-year member of the California Scholarship Federation and a two-year member of the National Honors Society, two exclusive clubs that select their members on the basis of academic excellence and community service. Both clubs openly advocate community service opportunities, and this month alone, I have dedicated over 25 volunteer hours to helping run Marching Band Field Shows. Outside of community service, I am also a founding member and performer of Capo’s very first mariachi band. We rehearse and prepare traditional Mariachi music to spread Mexican culture to our audiences.

What was your favorite part of the Mandarin Immersion Program experience?

My favorite part of the Mandarin Immersion Program experience would undoubtedly be the people that I met along the way, and the connections that arose as a result. I am fortunate enough to have been a member of the inaugural class, a slightly smaller and more isolated group of individuals. By that I simply mean we all consistently fit into one classroom, and have been classmates since the first grade. Getting to grow up in such a familiar learning environment created friendships that I firmly believe will last the extent of our lives. The Mandarin Immersion Program gave me a reliable social network before I reached middle school. It provided me with an environment that I felt safe and secure within. I believe that present education suffers a good deal due to society’s emphasis on success, and ridicule of even minor mistakes. For me, growing up in an environment where every face was familiar gave me the confidence and courage to take risks within my educational journey, and make mistakes under eyes I knew not to be critical, was imperative to my development as both a student and a person.

What aspect of the Mandarin Immersion Program surprised you the most?

I don’t know that any aspect of the Mandarin Immersion Program came as a particular surprise to me. Having grown up in the program and surrounded by the culture, the program provided a foundation for what I would define as “normal.” The true surprise came in middle school when the flexibility of multiple classes gave me perspective outside of the Mandarin Immersion Program. I realized how lucky I was to have grown up within the program, as it provided me with a community of family and friends: a home I could fall back on if I ever felt lost. I suppose then it can be said that the most surprising aspect of the Mandarin Immersion Program was the intimate community it resulted in, of which I am very grateful to have been a part.

How has the Mandarin Immersion Program prepared you for life after graduation?

The Mandarin Immersion Program taught me resilience and initiative. From an early age, the program provided its students with projects and learning opportunities that needed to be taken into our own hands. From a poem recitation competition in fourth grade, to numerous presentations throughout middle school, and essay writing competitions in high school, the program gave me plenty of opportunity to take my education to the next level on my own accord. Additionally, Mandarin, and language learning in general, cannot strictly be an in-classroom experience. The sooner students discover that, and the more work they are willing to put in on their own, the more they will gain from the experience. That is a life-lesson transferable to life outside of the classroom and post graduation.

How will you use your Mandarin knowledge in your daily life?

As I mentioned previously, I hope to pursue a career in engineering. Like many other careers, especially in a world with increasing emphasis on globalization, bilingualism is an invaluable tool. Not only will the proficiency of Mandarin set us aside on the job market, it will allow us as individuals to better connect ourselves and our future place of work with China. Engineering in particular is a career path and study that places heavy emphasis on cooperation and collaboration with others, both domestically and internationally. I personally want to better connect China to the U.S. in the realm of space travel.

What advice would you give other students considering joining the Mandarin Immersion Program?

While this could be applicable to any learning environment and situation, I think it is particularly true of students looking to learn a language, especially on as complex and difficult as Mandarin: I advise you never to let your fear of mistakes stand in your way. A teacher once told me that in order to become proficient at a language, you had to be comfortable with the idea of sounding incredibly stupid for a short while. Realistically, mistakes are how you learn, and the more you make, the better potential you have. I advise any student entering the Mandarin Immersion Program to do so with a reasonable expectation of themselves. I have found that my biggest mistakes often become my brightest learning moments.

I would also advise that students in the Mandarin Immersion Program take this unique opportunity to establish themselves positively within their community. The people surrounding you will be there for you every step of the way: it is likely the best source of friendship you will ever encounter. Make a point to dedicate yourself to it. Enjoy every moment, and connect with your classroom family as much as you can: they will be your study buddies, your advisors, and your support as you traverse the difficult adventure that is school.

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