Why Speak Chinese 2020 Winner Amanda Florian’s (小爱 xiǎo ài) flawless Mandarin has obviously impressed our judges. But more than that, her journey to learn the language  is inspirational. 

Chinosity celebrates individuals like Amanda who fully immerse themselves in Chinese culture and embrace all there is to learn. Her path from singing with her sisters as a young girl in North Carolina to launching a media startup is a story that inspires.

Amanda has always been a go-getter. She grew up in the entertainment industry and trained in classical Italian.

By the age of eight she was training in theater, dance and voice in New York City with her two sisters. New York quickly became her second home. 

Following a childhood immersed in the arts, Amanda developed a passion for journalism and research during her undergrad at Milligan College. 

“That’s when I realized I have a love for words. Being a kid, my dad always said, ‘You should get paid by the word since you love talking and sharing all these ideas.’” Her dad said this jokingly, but his words stuck with Amanda. 

Amanda’s journalistic endeavors grew even deeper when she spent a year solo-traveling in Asia. Whether that be traveling to Thailand and meeting monks or seeing the soldiers in Korea, inspiration is in every corner for Amanda to explore. 

Florian at the "Jinshanling" part of the Great Wall. 

“Everytime I travel I’m inspired by what I see. It’s a unique and unconventional opportunity to meet new people and soak it all in.” China became Amanda’s favorite place to visit. 

Something about the culture automatically drew her in. In particular, Shanghai stole Amanda’s heart.

While connecting with strangers, Amanda stresses the importance of listening and waiting. Conversation is all about “finding the beauty in others as they open up.” 

When you interview someone, their pauses are often when you can see their true self.

Solo-traveling in China means taking a hold of every opportunity you encounter. Amanda spent time in Xichang working on the city’s image and development. 

Free time while living in China meant practicing calligraphy or 书法.  Amanda’s favorite styles are 行书 and 草书. 

Prior to excelling in Mandarin, Florian endured a few hiccups as a Chinese-language-learner. Years ago, Amanda and her friend were dining at a Chinese restaurant. 

While speaking with the waiter, Florian confused 啤酒 (píjiǔ) with 屁股 (pìgu). This humorous misunderstanding reminded Amanda that “little hiccups along the way aren’t setbacks-- I think it only solidifies the language learning process we all go through.”

She and her best friend Ping 平 from Shanghai talk every single day and have grown a beautiful 关系 (guānxì).  One pivotal moment in Amanda's Chinese learning career was when Ping spoke to her in Mandarin and Amanda completely understood. 

She then replied to Ping in a full Chinese sentence. Amanda’s understanding astounded her as she and Ping jumped up and down in excitement. 

When asked about the most important lessons from years writing and researching in China, Amanda said to keep striving. “It’s difficult to get your feet on the ground at first. I went in only knowing the basics of saying hello and counting to 10.” 

Another essential to master the language has been to surround herself with friends like Ping who push her to do her best. 

Luckily, Amanda’s background in music helped her to more naturally grasp the tones of Mandarin.

Learning a language also depends on the study materials, according to Amanda. She tried as much as possible to write down new phrases and utilize these while in the local market.  

Sit-down conversations with locals are also a beautiful way to communicate and practice Chinese.  

Florian in Xichang, Sichuan, China.

Gen Z’sTik Tok and Douyin obsession allows Amanda to use her Mandarin skills to delve deeper into this phenomenon. “My research centers on TikTok and Gen Z, and I explore how the new media app allowed Gen Z to connect during the pandemic.”  

With young adults living in isolation, Tiktok is the prime platform to build your online persona. Amanda’s findings on Gen Z will be published this upcoming spring. 

Amanda’s latest role is CEO of Clapback Media-- a startup app based in Shanghai. “We will bring this new app to people who are curious about news and want to see various perspectives in both English and Chinese.” 

"The app came into fruition when she and her peers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University participated in a local entrepreneurial competition."

"We’re all based in different time zones, so that’s something we’re still navigating. But it also makes us unique because we have a handful of perspectives and ideas."

"Knowing Chinese gave us an advantage. When we pitched our idea to the panel, some of the judges had questions I was able to answer in Mandarin." 

"So in doing so, the panel was able to get a better understanding of our tech startup's purpose and mission." 

Student Amanda at Shanghai Jiao Tong University 

The team plans to provide an informative and engaging platform for Gen Z creators. Clapback’s mission is to create a community to amplify young voices. 

Amanda’s successful career is evidence that a deep understanding of another culture can advance you in many trajectories-- socially, professionally, and emotionally. 

Amanda stays hopeful for the future. Once borders open, she plans to take her sister to China on her free trip awarded by Chinosity.

Florian in Shanghai's Yu Garden 

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Hannah Keenan

Hannah Keenan is a student at the University of Southern California studying International Relations and Mandarin. Hannah’s interests are human rights and culture.
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