To learn Mandarin is, ultimately, to do something extra ordinary. Not only is a difficult undertaking, it is also, in many ways a unique task. Chances are that if you were to engage in serious Mandarin studies you would never meet someone else outside of the time of your studies that has done the same thing. It is also extra ordinary because China is extra ordinary.
First of all, China is not a country in the same way that other nation states are countries. Just over one fifth of the humanity lives in China. At the same time, there are six habitable continents on earth. That means that China is more like a large continent than a country. To put this is the context of other countries: there is roughly the same amount of Chinese people as there are Africans, Europeans, South and North Americans.
Second of all, China has an almost unique cultural legacy. For starters, it is has existed somewhere between 4.000 and 5.000 years. There were city kingdoms in China with populations in excess of a million while there were only tribes in the majority of the rest of the world. Secondly, China is the most successful autocracy in our contemporary world. No other nation shares Chinas explosive economic growth. The other Asian giant, India, is so far behind China in terms of manufacturing prowess that it is cheaper to send plastic pellets to China, from India, make low tech plastic bags and then ship them back. When it comes to more complicated manufacturing tasks India does not even stand a chance.
The third reason that China is extra ordinary ties into its dominance of the worlds manufacturing sector. China has in the last 20 years beaten every record there is for economic development. If you look at a graph of Chinas gross domestic product it looks like the very definition of exponential leverage. Since the reformation of the Chinese domestic economy from pure central planning to an export oriented powerhouse over half of the country has changed jobs from the agriculture sector to the much better paid industrial sector. This has lifted over a billion people out poverty in the historical/economic timeframe of a second.
The fourth reason is probably the most salient when it comes to Chinese Mandarin language studies. Chinas economy is trade led. Its productive potential is geared for export in the same way that Luxemburg is geared for trade, the difference being that China is about 2600 times larger that Luxemburg. What do you need to live in Luxemburg? You need to speak more than one language. What does China need to realize its enormous potential? Lots and lots of people that does not only speak Mandarin Chinese. China is rushing to meet this demand. There will soon be more people in China that somewhat speaks English than there will be native English speakers. The one thing that these Chinese bilingual people lack is however a western grade education. Chinese education is still abysmal compared to mid to top western institutions. The global economy craves people that can stand with one leg on each side of the east-west cultural divide and make western MBA level decisions regarding marketing, production and trade.
So learning Chinese Mandarin is a unique undertaking in many ways, because China is unique in many ways. But not only therefore, China is also a unique undertaking because so few people have bothered to do it before you. To go where no man has gone before has always been a very rewarding undertaking, To create connections between new products, new technologies, new ideas, new countries, new markets, new people is to create a better world. All human achievements has begun with someone either thinking of something new or with someone meeting something new. We dont need to invent the wheel twice for more than one person to use it. Globalization is ultimately a broad application of what has gotten humanity to the point where globalization was possible. Language, communication lies at the heart of this. To learn Mandarin, to explore such possibilities within an awakened new continent, is an extra ordinary undertaking.