After having been in China for almost a month, we had another AFS orientation, hosted at our school. All the AFS kids in Changzhou came with teachers from their schools and the local AFS Changzhou representative, and we talked about our lives so far and any problems we were having. It was great seeing everyone of course, but we all see each other every weekend anyways. In Changzhou this year, there are 4 Americans, 4 Italians, a Turkish guy, a Dominican girl, a Danish guy, a French girl, a German girl, a Beligian girl, and a Norweigan guy. We are a little family!! After the orientation, we all went to Hongmei Park, which is within walking distance of our school, to hang out.
In school, we’ve gone on some excursions recently to practice the new Chinese we’re learning! The first time, we went to two different places to compare prices and buy fruit – a supermarket and a small fruit shop. We conversed with shopkeepers and bought lots of yummy snacks to bring back to the classroom to eat, including my all-time favorite fruit: mangosteen!! The supermarket was crazy. So many people and so many live things to buy! While we were there, some lady had two live fish flopping around in a grocery cart, and one managed to escape and was flopping on the floor. It was pretty entertaining to watch the people try to pick it up. We also visited several banks, both public and private, to see what they’re like and to exchange money. However, since we didn’t have our passports with us at the time, we couldn’t actually exchange money; my friend and I returned later with the proper documents and successfully exchanged our money! The best part of learning Chinese is China is being able to put what we learn in class to actual use in the real world. It feels so great when people actually understand what you’re saying and can converse with you!
I have also recently experienced two unique aspects of Chinese culture: food and medicine! My friend Sam invited me and our other classmates over to his host family’s house to make 饺子, also known as dumplings! I absolutely love dumplings, so I was happy to learn how to make them, and even more excited to eat them! They were very yummy. Additionally, all the AFS Changzhou kids were invited to attend an event called “我爱常州”, or “I love Changzhou”. At this part of the event, we visited a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Center. We were given a tour, and I got to try making TCM pills, all while being on camera for the local news. Also, we had opportunities to actually try some TCM techniques, such as massages and acupuncture. I ended up getting acupuncture on my stomach and legs even though I’m terrified of needles. It was a little frightening and uncomfortable, especially when they added electric shocks, but I felt like it would be a cool thing to experience while in China, it was free, and I survived, so it’s all good and I’m glad I did it! After I finished the acupuncture, I was interviewed by the news channel about my experience and my thoughts on Chinese medicine. In a few days, I could watch myself of TV!
This past Friday and Saturday were possibly some of the greatest times I’ve had in China so far: our school’s 运动会 (Sports Meeting)!! It’s kind of like a big track meet with running, high/long jump, discus, etc., but all the classes within the school (about 10 per grade) compete against one another. I loved it because 1) we didn’t have class and 2) I bonded with so many of my classmates! On the first day, each class did a little performance as they walked by in front of the school administration to show their spirit. My class practiced our performance for two hours the day before. We all wore matching clothes, had a class cheer and pompoms, and made a boat (representing victory) out of seven pieces of fabric (representing our class, 七班, Class 7!). For the rest of the time, we sat with our class near the track and cheered on our classmates participating in the sporting events. Usually a boy would yell out the classmate’s name and everyone else would scream “Jia yo!!”, which means, as my classmates say, “fighting”, but more realistically “come on”. I even participated in the 400 meter race for my class, and it felt so good to hear all my classmates cheering me on as I ran. The Sports Meeting is great because there is so much time to spend talking with your classmates. I have so many good friends in my class now! We chatted, cheered together, shared snacks and umbrellas (because it was so hot this weekend), took pictures, and joked around. Oh – and my class won the Sports Meeting!!!!! I was so excited! I really have the best class. My classmates always look out for me, making sure I know where to go, have someone to talk to, and have enough water (my friend asked me this weekend, “Emily, are you sick?”, when I replied “a little”, she immediately ran to go bring me a bottle of water, and after I finished running my race, my classmates greeted me at the finish line with water bottles, etc.). They are so friendly and funny and cute! One of my best friends in my class told me at the end of the Sports Meeting, “When our class met for the first time this summer, we said we wanted to be the best class, not just academically, but all around, and I think today, we have accomplished our goal. I have no words to say how I feel right now.” I completely agree with her, they are the best class.
I think the key to making good friends in China is to just be approachable and present, patient and outgoing. For example, looking interested during their classes instead of sleeping or looking bored, saying hello to them and smiling, being willing to answer all their questions, encouraging them when they try and speak English, and not being afraid to ask them questions about themselves or about school. It doesn’t take much to befriend people in China, and they take notice of your efforts. They can tell if you really want to be a part of their class and are trying to be friends with them. If you take a genuine interest in them, they’ll take a genuine interest in you! Some may be shy at first, especially about their English skills, but the more you’re there with them, the more likely they are to speak with you. Now, my classmates sing Chinese songs to me to teach me random phrases and words, and encourage me to practice my Chinese with them or show them the characters I’m learning. They’ll ask me about my holiday plans, give me their pomegranates, and share their books with me during class. We can joke about our classmates together, like how one boy’s nickname is “Lao Gong”, which means husband, or how another boy has the most hilarious facial expressions. There is really nothing more rewarding than making new friends, especially in a foreign country!