Almost every study abroad program has this one portion of the trip where they place each program participant into the households of local families. This is commonly called a “home stay,” and the purpose is to fully immerse the participant in the language, culture, and local community of whatever country they are in. The NSLI-Y program is no different. They carefully look to see which houses best suit the needs of each participant, and house them accordingly. Because of this process, no one on the trip will have the same experience. I have come to realize that my thoughts, experiences, and opinions of the Xiamen local culture will be based on what house I get put in to. So no pressure at all, right?
All joking aside, I really do like my host family. My host brother, Mella (this is his English name), is very active. He runs very long distances, and likes to play basketball with his friends. In fact, the first night I had moved in, Mella and I walked down to the Xiamen University campus to meet up with some of his friends and play basketball. Kevin, Subway, Sugar, Mella (once again, all English names) and I played basketball for around three hours, which is something that I had not done in years. Mella let me borrow an all yellow basketball uniform of his, so I must have looked like some kind of crazy, foreign, walking banana, missing three-point shots and chasing after runaway balls. Mella encouraged me to relax and try my best, so while I was struggling with the game, I was having fun as well.
My host father is a very kind and interesting person. We have already had long conversations about Chinese culture, which I find to be very interesting. He loves collecting Chinese art, CDs of traditional Chinese music, and most of all, tea. Tea is a major part of his life, and he took time to explain to me all about the history of Chinese tea, Chinese tea culture, and of course, the traditional Chinese method of serving tea. Last night, he took me to a teahouse owned by one of his friends (a fellow tea lover). There, we compared the tastes of three different variations of Pu’er tea that my host father had brought with him. All three had come from the same mountain; however, they were all gathered in different years, so there is a noticeable difference in taste. My host father never misses a chance to teach me a new word or phrase in Chinese that he thinks could be useful to the conversation, or my knowledge of the topic at hand.
Because it’s only the second full day of homestays, I have not had that much time to spend time with my host mother. Despite this fact, I can already tell that she is a kindhearted and generous woman. We did have a chance to go to the market on my first day, and she let me pick out any food I wanted. I didn’t want to be impolite and spend all of her money, but she insisted. It is a Chinese custom to treat your houseguests with as much food as you can, so even as I walked in the house for the first time, my host mother sat me down at the table and had me eat as much of their fruit as I could. Every time we all sit down to eat, she is always on top of making sure I like all of the food and am eating to my heart’s content. She is always so cheerful, and I don’t think I have seen her in a bad mood yet.
One of the things the chaperones told us to look out for was the cultural differences and similarities between lives of the local Chinese in Xiamen and the lives of the Americans from our hometowns, in my case, the people from Kansas City. Today, during our day off from classes, I noticed a lot of these things. For example after eating a big lunch of homemade dumplings with my host father’s parents and sister, the guests left right after, and it was encouraged that I go to bed. My host father tried to explain to me that many Chinese actually take naps after having lunch (Almost like the Spanish “siesta”). Still a little confused, and frankly not tired at all, I went in to my room and read a book. Later on today, when I told them what happened, how I didn’t fall asleep, they were very surprised, and assumed I must be very tired.
The rest of today was very fun. We ended up taking a taxi to a museum all about the history of Xiamen. My host family does not own a car, because everything is walking distance from their flat located nearby Xiamen University. When I asked my host father about it, though, he said, “If I had the money to spend on a car, I would probably spend it all on tea!”
We then ate noodles at a restaurant near the museum, and went grocery shopping at a nearby mall. After that, we walked to a sports park so we could watch Mella run around the track. There were hundreds of people working out, running around the track, playing basketball, playing soccer, and even just watching all of the commotion. In a city like Kansas City, you would never see this many people in one place just working out, it was crazy. After Mella was done, my host mother called an Uber to take us home. Overall, I have had a lot of fun with my host family. I can’t wait for all of the experiences, thoughts, and opinions I will gain from my time with these people.
Mella and I