By Catherine Pompe
It has now been a few days since we first moved in with our home stay families, and we have begun to feel more comfortable with our new families. My host family, particularly my mom and my 15 year old sister, and I have begun to feel more comfortable around each other. I have discovered that my sister, although a little shy, likes taking selfies (自拍) and her favorite class is English. I have talked with my host mom in Mandarin in topics ranging from food to steep housing prices in Xiamen. They are all very kind hearted and I feel lucky to to have been placed in a home with people who are caring and interested in learning about my culture and teaching me about theirs.
I try to share pieces of my culture with my family, for example explaining tacos, Nutella, American slang, and a little bit about the American economic system, while they share the most fundamental parts of their culture with me: their daily life, their language, and their food. My host mom in particular has been very eager for me to try all different kinds of food, many of which I had never even heard of before, such as zóngzi (粽子), and is at the same time very attentive to what I like and don’t like; for example, I told my host parents that I liked eating fruit, and they next day for breakfast they had an assortment of different fruits waiting for me. I try to help my host sister with her English homework and she is very happy to help me with my Chinese homework.
My daily life includes waking up to a nice breakfast, now only fruit, and then carpooling with two other students to get to Xiamen University. Language class in the morning can always brighten my mood whether we are just learning about grammar or watching Ip Man and learning about Bruce Lee (李小龙). After lunch, we head to the cafeteria to eat lunch together, which is quite the spectacle for all the students, teachers, and Chinese tourists eating there. Afternoon culture class promises to be informative, yet too short, especially on days like today where we were able to ask any questions we had about China. Questions ranged from topics like China’s one child policy to Taoism. The interest group, on of my favorite parts of the day allows us to experience and learn traditional Chinese hobbies, such as the Ocarina (a flute-like instrument). While it might not be the teachers’ favorite thing to hear us playing this recorder-like instrument during any possible break, it is very fun for us.
My favorite part of the day is tutoring time because not only am I practicing and improving my Chinese, I also get to make new friends, some of which left a few days ago to go back to their hometown, but I still communicate with. After we finish what we are assigned by the teacher, or sometimes before, we chat with our tutors in Chinese. I especially like to ask if they can teach us local slang, and often times, they have something fun to teach. After returning home, dinner and discussions with my host family, using pleco every other sentence, can be fun, at times frustrating due to the language barrier, but most of the time funny or interesting.
Although the stares while on the street and the people whispering “foreigner (外国人)” have not gone away, I am starting to feel more like local day by day; using slang words or phrases taught by tutors, becoming accustomed to the different foods, living with a Chinese family, and getting to know the culture.