Reflection by Lauren L.

We’ve been in China for over a month now and it no longer feels like a strange summer camp destination. It has now taken on a more comfortable feel and seems like a second home. We- the students- experienced so much that it is hard to process it all in my head, let alone put it into words. But I must say my biggest confrontation with Chinese culture took place during the two-week homestay. During these 14 days I learned so much about authentic, every-day Chinese culture, and I feel that I could not have learned any of it in a classroom. My family instantly welcomed me with open arms. It seems the Chinese’s typical reaction to foreigners is either “Quick! Grab the camera!” or they seem to just brush it off and push you out of the way on the street as if you were an every day citizen. So this warm welcome by non-NSLI-Y affiliated people was very nice to see. Upon arrival at my host family’s apartment a grandmother, a hot bowl of jiao zi, and a pair of my very own slippers greeted me. First of all, I knew from previous knowledge that extended family is very important in Chinese culture so it was no surprise that Granny, as they called her, was visiting as she did almost every day to help with things around the house. I also knew that the Chinese often given their guests more food than necessary, but the slippers definitely through me for a loop. I was also instructed to wash my hands every time I entered the apartment from outside. I thought perhaps my family was afraid of outside germs-understandable- but when discussing this new habit with my classmates I found that their families do the exact same thing. This need for cleanliness inside the home certainly contrasts the dirtiness of the air and streets in areas of Shanghai. It was very new to me and I often forgot to wear the slippers at first, but after a few days it became a habit. Even when I visited other homes with my host family, slippers were always provided for guests.

Dinnertime was another important learning time for me. I indirectly learned the proper use and placement of chopsticks just by observing my family use them. They never corrected me when I accidently placed my chopsticks in the wrong direction, but they did often laugh at my when my food slipped from grasping chopsticks. I figured there must be some etiquette for chopsticks, just as there is for silverware, but this I had to learn on my own. My host mom often told me stories about the “old China” so I got to learn about life back then and see how it had changed. The homestay experience was certainly eye opening. I often found myself comparing their lifestyle to my own back in Oklahoma. Many aspects are the same such as importance of family, and the emphasis the parents put on their child’s schoolwork. But some of the biggest contrasts I found were how the family chose to spend their time together, meal preparations, and the overall style and layout of the house. I know it is unfair to judge Chinese culture as a whole based on my two week stay with just one family, but I feel that this is a good start to understanding the gist and generalizations of the society and its ways.

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