This post was written by Hannah Boland one of our campus reporters attending SYA China. Hannah is a junior from Culver Academies in Indiana. She hopes to provide readers with a bit of flavor of what the SYA experience is like and to share her experiences, mistakes, and triumphs. Read Hannah's latest blog post as she writes about celebrating Chinese New Year in Beijing, her host family and what makes SYA China so unique.
羊年到了，愿你快乐不断！(Wishing you unceasing happiness in the Year of the Sheep!)
Greetings everybody! Today (2/19/15) is the first day of the Chinese New Year! The title of this post is a phrase of good wishes that one might have heard spoken amongst family members who were ushering in the New Year. The Spring Festival has practically been infused in the lives of all SYA students and Chinese people for the past several weeks. In Chinese classes, we have been studying all of the many traditions leading up to the Spring festival, the mass migration of millions of people traveling to their hometowns for the New Year has been streaming across the news lines almost every day, the vendors on the street bridges started adding 红包 (red money bags that are given to children on the New Year) to their merchandise, along with lamb plush figures. It has simply been an amazing experience and it is astounding to see the way that this thousands-of-years old festival ignites spirit within all of the Chinese people. You honestly have to be here to see what I mean.
Gong Xi Fa Cai
Before coming to Beijing, I got a chance to meet with my Chinese teacher from my homeschool one last time. I remember her saying, “Make sure you enjoy the Chinese festivals, especially the Spring Festival. Take it all in.” I realized then that this celebration would be so much bigger and greater than even the one our Chinese population put on at school. The festival would be something beyond anything I had imagined. All I can say now is that it definitely was.
At twelve o’clock the fireworks and firecrackers started being set off with an intensity that set the sky ablaze in sparkling light and color, and the explosions pounding with an immensely powerful sound in my ears. The excitement captured in that moment is really indescribable as I stood transfixed next to my Chinese father, gaping at the display, heart pulsing faster and faster, turning my head right, then left as I tried to take in the sporadic explosions on all sides. Once we had headed back in to my grandma’s house, we all ate 饺子 (dumplings), cooked with dates and coins in them to bring us happiness and wealth in the upcoming year. But besides the elation from the activities and traditions, just being able to spend the whole day with my entire Chinese family was a wonderful time in itself. Instead of feeling like the clueless foreigner who doesn’t understand anything that is going on, like at the beginning of the year, I actually feel like I am one of the family.
Spending time with family
That’s not to say that everything is completely perfect and easy all of the time. There are still times of great confusion, and also difficulty with trying to keep up with all of the class work that we have at SYA. It is not a carefree picnic and we all have to work hard to get our school work done and still have time to get involved with Chinese life. One thing that I think for me has been the most important key to doing this is really prioritizing my relationship with my Chinese family. My sister and I have a really good and growing relationship and I consider as her my actual sister. The same is true with my Chinese parents. Sometimes this can be a little bit difficult when I want to stay out late with my friends, or schedule plans by myself, because I have an obligation to my family. On the whole though, I think that the best investment of my time in China has been working towards this family relationship, because they have not only helped me to understand Chinese thinking beyond my learning in the classroom and daily observations, but most importantly have given me a home that I can truly call my own. This is a relationship that you just can’t get from living in the States, and my Chinese family is easily one of the best things that has happened to me by coming to SYA.
Two others are simply the Chinese teachers here and the friends that I’ve made. The Chinese teachers are just so phenomenal and besides that, are wonderful people. Even though several of the teachers do not personally teach my class, they are all so available and ready to help me or any SYA student with our Chinese, or just talk about anything on our minds. They are so much more than our Chinese teachers, because they are our greatest supporters as well and are always quick to laugh. I will miss them all terribly when we return to the U.S.
Making lots of friends
Finally, the friends that I’ve made here at SYA are some of the best friends we have ever had. I go to a boarding school, where you bond with the people that you live with, but this kind of bond is on a different level. All in a foreign country where we don’t completely speak the language, my classmates and I have leaned on each other when things get difficult, as we all can generally understand what the others are going through. There are people from all sorts of backgrounds in my group of closest friends, but we all trust each other and can be completely open about anything going on in our lives, knowing we will support each other indefinitely. So shout-out to Mu Lei, Sha Sha, Eti, Jillian, and Kit for being amazing friends. But besides the close group of friends that I have, basically everybody in SYA are great people. The community we have is so supportive, and I’m often blown away about how smart and deep my fellow classmates are.
I guess that is enough of an update for now. Next week we are going on our class trip to Yunnan (which is a province in Southern China) so we are all looking forward to that. After we get back, I’m also hoping to go on a five-day immersion program in a rural high-school outside of the city. I’m really excited about it, so I’ll fill you in on how that goes in the future. ‘Till next time!