By Casey Mook
I came here with goals of improving my mandarin Chinese, to learn a new culture, and to try something new. After being with these new people who I never met before this thrilling experience, I see now that there are tons of kids just like me with similar goals and dreams. The only difference is we came from all over the U.S to do something truly amazing with a generous program. I have seen and learned so much already not just about Chinese but their people. Now that I will be making Chinese friends every time I have dinner, it makes me excited for the good times and relationships that will be created for the future. This program can be seen as more than bringing kids to China to learn Chinese, but also as bringing people together to encourage diversity. Every time I leave the U.S.A. bubble of English and American culture I see the new faces that are three feet away from me every time I go to the dining hall. This program is not about individual people learning Chinese but about a large group of people coming together from different places and cultures to learn Chinese and create an everlasting bond. That’s why this program is about the people which is why every day I am happy to grow closer to each person near me, even the ones I haven’t met yet.
Today I woke up and the sky was the clearest I have seen since arriving here. The first model school day was today and I think I and most others can say they don’t have jet lag, so hopefully people won’t be falling asleep at 7 like I did every night so far. Its 8:30 now so this is a new record for me. My favorite food here or at least the thing I have eaten the most is like a chocolatey muffin and today for the first time they didn’t have it for breakfast. Besides that we got to do our interest group for the first time and tai qi fan was quite painful and fun, I don’t know what the other groups did but I know what they are. The other two groups are shadow puppets and long-sleeve dance. Today we learned what our warm up will be every day this week and also some technique that is slightly painful for the inflexible and weak. In culture Class we learned a lot about China’s culture and I understand how important it is for us to learn their culture and learn it well. Seeing how it is 9 and I am really tired and I want to sleep I still must be jet lagged so hopefully tomorrow will be the day that I don’t feel jet lagged.
By Annabel Ricks
Today, the students of NISL-Y transitioned from yesterday’s July 4th festivities to their first full school day at Xiamen University. After a hearty breakfast, groups one and two gathered for their first E-portfolio meeting. Facilitated by Chen Laoshi and Tu Laoshi, E-portfolio meetings are designed to create cultural awareness through discussions about our own cultures and subsequently how we view others. In my group, group two (aka the tigers), we talked with Tu Laoshi about the importance of understanding our own cultures in order to be true “young ambassadors”. We each shared whom we personally identify as with the group (singer, dreamer, male, Buddhist), and discussed each identity’s traits as well as how each identifier affects the other. When we finished our discussion, all five groups went together to our classes in a separate building. In my class, Intermediate II, we are taught by the amazing Yang Laoshi. Unlike my school’s Chinese class, Yang Laoshi speaks to us mostly in Chinese. We began class with a test, and moved on to talking about sentence structures and vocab relating to weather. Once we got more used to the material, we had two competitions. In one competition we had to essentially “insult” each other in Chinese using the “A is more (adjective) than B” structure, and the other we tried to say as much of the vocab learned in sentences in a certain amount of time. I was personally very nervous about the competitions, but my team was still able to win the second game and get a prize! Even after one class, I already feel more confident with my Chinese.
Once class ended, we took a short break before lunch. When we aren’t studying, a large group of us love to get together to play card games. Our favorite is called Egyptian Rat-screw, and while we all have loads of fun, the game can get extremely competitive. There have only been a few minor casualties. Shout out to Mandy, who apparently isn’t capable of losing. We’ll beat you eventually. Our next class was our cultural class with Chen Laoshi. He talked about China’s geography, population, and political history. He also took time to draw similarities between America and China. For example, he told us about the conflict between northern and southern China, and how the relationship is similar to that in America between the north and south. The class will later go into other important topics including the One Child Policy, and the issue of Taiwan.
After these classes, we went to our interest groups, where we learn aspects of Chinese culture ranging from Taiqi to Peking opera makeup. Today, a girl from the Peking opera club came to talk to us about the Peking opera. She introduced the topic to us with a lovely vocal performance from one of the Xiamen University students. We then learned about the structure of Peking opera, including how the colors on each character’s mask describes the character’s personality. For example, black masks suggest a loyal character, while in contrast white masks suggest the character is not trust worthy. At the end of the class, we got to try some of the instruments, and try on traditional Peking opera clothing.
For the last activity of the day, we met with our tutors, also Xiamen University students, to work on our homework. The tutors would help us with any questions we had, so I was able to make good use of my time and finish some of my homework before dinner. One unique aspect of the tutoring that surprised me was that it was group based rather than individually. I especially liked this structure because everyone could work together as a group on our homework, which I have discovered to be a lot more effective in the case of language learning.
Although the first day of work was rigorous and in the future will only become more so, I think I can speak for every student here in saying that it will all pay off in spades. Students in the NSLI-Y program came here to pursue
an incredible education in the Chinese language and culture, and we couldn’t be in a better place to do so.
By Bryce Fan
It was Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who once said, “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”
After embracing a painful 20+ hours of plane travel, a two hour flight delay to Xiamen due to weather, and a treacherous half mile walk to Shanghai Pudong International’s Terminal One, a new beginning has indeed blossomed: UD NSLI-Y’s adventure in Xiamen.
We woke up this morning to a beautiful view of Xiamen University’s world-famous campus after a good night’s rest. Surrounded by the breathtaking mountains, lush forests, and exquisite architecture of XMU’s campus, we headed to breakfast and enjoyed a delicious, traditional Chinese breakfast consisting of specialities such as jiao zi, you tiao, and bao zi. Needless to say, with the entire cafeteria to ourselves, many of our students enjoyed a second and third helping.
After a wonderful breakfast, our group headed to XMU’s College of Humanities for an opening ceremony, where we were welcomed by senior administrative staff of Xiamen University. As a top 10 university in China, our group was delighted to hear the opening remarks of University Vice President Zhan Xinli, along with the University’s Associate Dean and our local teachers and chaperones. Program director Dr. Jianguo Chen also gave a few words, expressing the program’s sincere gratitude for Xiamen University’s hospitality and the importance of the US-China relationship for generations to come. The opening ceremony ended with the wonderful words of program student Leah Booher, who gave a speech on behalf of the entire program in Chinese. Our students also received their mobile phones and local SIM cards to use while at the program, thanks to our awesome staff here in Xiamen.
Once stuffing ourselves with an equally delicious lunch, our group went their separate ways for the very first day of class. The Chinese amongst our program’s participants was so talented that a beginner level class was unnecessary. With two levels of intermediate and an advanced class, UD NSLI-Y’s students began their journey to achieve the State Department’s minimum language instruction period of 120 hours. Despite only an hour of class, it was clear from both the positive comments of the program’s instructors and the excitement of students that the next 119 hours will be filled with productivity, fun, and laughter.
Our group then watched a talent show put on by local Xiamen University students to introduce the program’s interest groups. In addition to the required 120 hours of language instruction, students are also given the ability to further understand Chinese culture by picking a weekly interest group, with activities such as shu fa (Chinese calligraphy), tai ji (Tai Chi), and traditional Chinese shadow puppets. We then separated into our five “Striving for Excellence” groups, where our local chaperones and teachers prepared a Scavenger Hunt for students to discover and explore the Xiamen University campus. Students were tasked with working together, reading a map in Chinese, and taking pictures at famous landmarks and important places (like the laundry room!) while running in 85º, 75% humidity weather across Xiamen University’s massive 200 acre campus. The results have yet to be released — but rest assured it was a close competition for most of us (sorry, Group 5). As we await dinner, most of us are back at the dorm resting from our intense work out. Tomorrow, the group will celebrate American Independence Day, where we’ll explore places of historical and cultural significance in the city of Xiamen, and enjoy a fancy seafood buffet for dinner. For a Chinese city famous for its fresh seafood and exquisite cuisine, you can bet that most of us will be eating a light lunch.
As our first day in Xiamen comes to a close, we reflect on the past 24 hours. Whether it be the profuse laughter and smiles from our two hour layover in the airport, walking around the breathtakingly beautiful Xiamen University campus, or the smiles, encouragement, and hard work from every single staff member here in Xiamen, these next six weeks will undoubtedly be challenging — but they will be incredibly rewarding. Behind every Chinese word that comes out of our program’s students and staff reveals a message far greater than mere communication: it represents our desire to further understand the land that 1.4 billion people call home, to comprehend the incredibly rich history and culture of a nation thousands of years old, and to embrace a country whose relationship with the United States has never been more important.
By Matthew Travers
239 years ago, today, our founding fathers fought for and attained the sentiment that echoed through each of our minds as we sang on the bus ride to Wei You Shi Fu restaurant in Xiamen, China: “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave… for the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Although most NSLI-Y students are accustomed to seeing this famous banner on Independence Day, we were instead met in Xiamen by the soaring dragon of the Qing Dynasty flag at Hu Li Shan Fortress (built in the second of the Qing Dynasty 1644-1911). As an American, it seemed strange to me that we were almost entirely alone in expressing enthusiasm and recognition for this significant day in our culture. However, these lyrics of our national anthem nonetheless rang true for us as we spent the day exploring and learning to understand the extensive culture of China. We were freely, although briefly, able to explore famous attractions in Xiamen, including the ornately decorated building complex of the Nan Pu Tuo Buddhist Temple, the defensive cannon and beach of Hu Li Shan Fortress, and the memorial to Tah Kan Kee, the founder of Xiamen University, at the Turtle Garden in Jimei. While braving through the heat and humidity native to Southern China on these excursions, we were still sun burned (somehow through all the fog!) as we visited and bartered with local Chinese shop keepers. After feasting upon the duck soup, famous to Wei You Shi Fu restaurant, at lunch, we finished our Independence Day celebration with a sea food buffet at an upscale restaurant. After returning to room 501 at the Cai Jing Jie International Students Dormitory, I immediately began preparing myself for our next journey at Xiamen!