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.