The waiting is finally over – Students moved in with their host families this afternoon! It was a much-anticipated event, opened by some introductory remarks by Dr. Chen, followed by some words of gratitude from Phoebe, an excellent piano performance by Skyelar, and a graceful modern dance performance by Joy and Samara. Although the students were a bit sad to be separating from the roommates and classmates they have grown so close with over the past three weeks, they were also a little nervous and extremely excited to finally meet their Chinese families, with whom they will live for the next two weeks. After the short ceremony and many photos, each student returned to the dorm building one last time to grab their luggage before heading to their new home. The host families prepared a variety of foods and planned a variety of activities for their new American sons and daughters. Some students made dumplings with their families; others played games with their host siblings; and others still went out shopping or for a walk around the neighborhood. Tomorrow is sure to be an interesting day as students recount their experiences from their first nights with their host families.
Today was one of the complete “immersion days” that we experience on our NSLIY trip. Every student is expected to speak only Chinese from the break of dawn until sundown. While immersion days are difficult, they change your perspective of your Chinese ability, especially in everyday life. From ordering food, answering questions, and greeting people as the day goes on, I have personally found that the “immersion days” are the easiest way to become comfortable with one’s speaking ability.
Meals are one of the easiest ways to meet new people in China, and today I had a unique encounter with a student getting his Bachelor’s Degree at Xiamen University. I sat down at the table and asked if I could sit (in Chinese.) The man simply nodded his head and looked down at his food. I have a tendency to sit with more girls or younger students because of their general welcoming spirit, but today I took the initiative to challenge myself. I started to ask some simple questions, (ex.) “What is your name?” “Do you attend Xiamen University?” The man slowly looked up from his dish, and responded, “Sorry, I don’t speak Chinese!” We both started to laugh, quickly realizing that we were both exchange students. We then introduced ourselves, “Mi Tu” (the man’s name) is from Northern India, and is studying his Bachelors in organic chemistry at Xiamen University. I soon discovered that he had been living in Xiamen for over a year, yet had not learned a drop of Chinese, in his defense: “Everyone speaks English.” Though this may be true, I saw a powerful correlation between his Chinese ability and his lack of belonging. Mi Tu spoke of feeling lonely in Xiamen, and how I was one of the first people during lunch that he had spoken to. We went on to discuss NSLIY, and Mi Tu seemed to have a different sense of language, that although English can be universal, it doesn’t drive the same connections as a local language.
Later in the day, all thirty NSLIY students explored GuLangYu. GuLangYu is an island off of Xiamen, which was opened after the First Opium War (1840). Because GuLangYu was used as a treaty port after the Opium War, Japanese, French, British, and New Netherland Victorian-era architecture can be admired along its coastline and inland. At around 6:30 pm we arrived at the crowded dock and took the ferry to GuLangYu. The group was divided into smaller ones, each with a teacher and a chaperon and we explored at our own pace. With my smaller group and chaperone, I enjoyed the “WenHuaYiChan” or “Cultural Heritage” GuLangYu has to offer. While visiting GuLangYu, “WaiGuo” or “foreign country” treatment was quite prominent, as many locals and tourists were excited to see Americans. I found the fascination with Americans to be quite interesting, because many of us haven’t had to face our privilege so directly. Small children, in particular, have a fascination with Americans; one child kept her eyes locked on the NSLIY students, waving her hand continuously as we left the ferry. GuLangYu gave most students good insight on what Xiamen, absent of the college life, feels like. The general public, unlike college students, are less familiar with Americans and more likely to treat us with “WaiGuo” privilege.
After more than two weeks of hard work and dedication, the students got a special treat today – an evening trip to Gulangyu Island. The island is one of Xiamen’s most famous cultural and historical locations, boasting beautiful scenery and a wide variety of attractions such as the Xiamen Piano Museum, Xiamen Underwater World, Shuzhuang Garden, and more. It was simply impossible to see everything, but the students still had fun dividing into groups and exploring the island. They enjoyed sampling a variety of drinks and snacks and investigating the many shops. Some groups made it as far as the imposing statue of military commander and local hero Zheng Chenggong, while others preferred to browse the stores or simply stroll along and enjoy the view. Some students expressed that they hope to return to Gulangyu in the future to visit the places they did not get the chance to see this time. But all in all, by the end of the night, although the trip was tiring, everyone had had a great time and was thankful to have had the opportunity to visit the beautiful island of Gulangyu. Since today was one of the complete “Chinese Immersion” days, all the students tried to speak as much as Chinese during the daytime and on this trip. So, the trip was an additional rewarding experience.
Very soon, the students will be making a highly anticipated next step in their NSLI-Y journey: moving into their homestay families! On Friday evening, local families will come to welcome each of our students into their homes for two weeks. In preparation for this exciting experience, the students have been dividing into their teams each morning for E-portfolio discussions with their chaperons and director. During these sessions, the students use excerpts from a textbook called Maximizing Study Abroad to explore cultural differences, potential difficult or awkward scenarios, and how to deal with the challenges they may face while interacting with their host families and other local people. These excerpts include real examples of real situations from previous exchange students, allowing the students to consider how they would approach various types of problems or overcome different cultural and linguistic barriers. This morning in particular, students began discussing the differences between personal, cultural, and universal habits. They consulted with each other and evaluated their own views and past experiences, pointing out that not all everyday behaviors can be taken for granted, and that there may sometimes be more to certain choices or actions than meets the eye.
By Jessica Marlow
Today, as per usual, was filled to the brim with activity, learning, and entertainment. Following breakfast – everyone’s favorite meal of the day – at 南光餐厅 (a nearby cafeteria style eatery that we frequent), classes went on as usual. Consisting of a spirited debate on the moral and practical values of giving up bus seats to the elderly, pregnant women, and young children, an intense 生词 – vocabulary – competition, and many a swoon over intricately enticing love stories – all shared in Mandarin of course – class differs from the normal cut and dry style of learning, allowing students to participate and rapidly grow, both in terms of Mandarin abilities and in presenting their ideas as mature, well-spoken young adults.
After lunch, we had a Special Culture Class – this time on Chinese Folk Dance. Originating in the Xinjiang region of China in the Northwest of China, this particular Chinese Folk Dance is enthusiastic and joyful, performed with a partner in line formation. We spun, we twirled, we clapped, we snapped, and most importantly, we partook in the spirit of the Xinjiang people and became better acquainted with the culture of one of China’s lesser known ethnic groups.
Following culture groups, we had new interest groups! I was fortunate enough to be placed in my top choice, Chinese Knot and Paper Cutting, and am excited to see what we can make in the week to come! Today we began with Chinese knots, a process which basically consisted of an arm’s length of brightly colored cord, pins, and a foam board. Though confusing at first, it is oddly therapeutic – if in need of a new hobby, I would highly recommend Chinese knot! Paper cutting is yet to come.
Following interest groups came tutoring, a time in which our 老师 – teacher – typically gives us a reading article. As today was the beginning of our 3rd week here in Xiamen, the reading has increased in difficulty! While it is noticeably more difficult and Pleco – a Chinese translating app – is most definitely being used more than it was last week, I am still impressed with how much our classes reading capabilities and speed have improved. After reading the article, we then read the passage aloud to our 厦门大学 – Xiamen University – tutors, answer questions verbally regarding content of the passage, and also form sentences using new characters discovered from reading the article.
After tutoring, we had a special Buddy Activity! This means that we spent about an hour before dinner playing games moderated by some of our tutors. Today, they had 3 games prepared for us. In one, two tutors held a cord taut at about waist height, with the goal of the game being to get all the NSLI-Y students over the cord – from one side to the other – without touching the cord or jumping over it. Through a multitude of methods – stepping on people’s backs, lifting people over bridal style, etc. – we were able to complete the task! Another game tasked us with lifting a person up with only 4 fingers and one fist, total. Though at first all of us students looked at each other in horror and disbelief at the thought of achieving this feat, 4/5 groups were able to do so!
By 6 pm, we said goodbye to our tutoring buddies and set off for dinner. I sat next to a middle-aged man with a strong, gruff accent, and though at some points communication was shaky, we had a very interesting conversation that showcased underlying cultural differences between China and the US, regarding both family structure and women in society. It is always interesting to communicate with local people and discover more personal perspectives on not only Chinese culture and society, but also human life and society as a whole.
Our group has several students with July birthdays, so today the program had a birthday celebration! Instead of having dinner in the dining hall as usual, we ate in the restaurant on the first floor of our dorm building. We had the delicious cakes and sang “Happy Birthday” for each student. Although all the commotion probably seemed a little strange to others in the restaurant, we all had a lot of fun. Justin brought along his guitar, and each birthday student received a small gift, as well as thoughtful cards from their peers, teachers, and chaperons. Next month, the group will have two more birthdays to celebrate!
After dinner, we returned to Xiamen University’s Performing Arts Center where we watched Daniel Epstein’s piano recital last week, this time for the tenth anniversary concert of the Youth Orchestra of Xiamen Foreign Language School, the local high school we recently visited. Tonight’s performance included both current students and alumni who rejoined their high school orchestra especially for this occasion. The orchestra, which has won both national and international awards, played an excellent and exciting concert consisting of both Western and Chinese pieces. They even played one piece entitled “The Explorer”, which was composed and conducted by one of the orchestra’s own alumni. After a long day of studying and working hard, everyone definitely enjoyed the entertainment and relaxation that this evening’s activities offered!