Monday, October 23, 2006

Chinese Diplomacy

This week we are playing host family to an exchange student from Beijing. As part of an effort to expand the teaching of Chinese in the United States, my son’s school has been trading visits by administrators between our school and a similar one in China.

As part of the next level of exchanges, five Chinese students are spending a week shadowing regular American kids as they go about their day. In my son’s case, that includes his typical weekly schedule of two marching band practices, a math team competition, a meeting of the rocketry club, and a band festival. Since our student listed math as his favorite subject, this should be a good match.

One of the first things our student said is “My English is not very good.” Well, it’s infinitely better than my Chinese, so we have to stick with English. When we talk to him, we try to explain things a couple of ways until some of the words we use sound familiar. His favorite word is ‘Oh”, so we are not quite sure how much of what we explain sinks in. When he really needs to get a point across, he’ll resort to a little pocket electronic translator.

My wife is in charge of debriefing and interrogation. So far, we know that his dad is a chemistry professor and his older brother is a high school teacher. He also has a little sister, so that sounds like a big family by modern Chinese standards. His textbooks in China are a fraction of the size of my son’s backpack-busting monstrosities. Their school day runs from 7 am to 5 pm and school vacation lasts about two months. He also understands the universal language of teenagers, video games.

The students and their teachers arrived Sunday afternoon after spending two days in LA sightseeing. To give him the full American home experience, we cooked a dinner of hamburgers and macaroni and cheese. After demonstrating the proper assembly of a hamburger on a bun, he took quite a while to make it all the way through a Trader Joes quarter pound buffalo burger with cheese, topped with lettuce and a tomato slice. My son occasionally polishes off two of these, but our Chinese friend thought just one of these was an awful lot of meat.

That may be the last home-cooked meal we give him. Our on-the-go weekday schedule tends to include a lot of fast-causal food like Quiznos and Chipolte. We’re not sure he’d be up to a full-sized burrito. Some things are just cruel to inflict on visitors from another country.

Breakfast today was toast and jelly, which he made into a sandwich, following the example of the hamburger from the night before. As we turned the corner on the way to school, his “Oh” seemed genuinely impressed with the size of the average American suburban high school.

A week is almost too short of a trip for this sort of thing, but we hope to give him and the other students a fair look at the life of typical American teenagers. We intend to get to a grocery store, the mall, and a night at the movies. We have tickets to a jazz concert by my son’s saxophone teacher and the whole group will spend a day doing all the touristy stuff in DC, then they are back to Beijing. Hopefully some American students will return the favor and visit there this summer. All the parents involved with the program have already volunteered to chaperone.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What should a visitor from China see to get a true impression of typical American life?


Elizabeth said...

You probably have a bunch of information on China already, but here is a good website for learning Chinese and an English to Chinese dictionary etc:
My husband and I are in our 7th month of waiting to adopt a little girl from China, so I'm always finding things on the web.
And I'm very jealous of you having this opportunity to host a student from China! Will he get a chance to go to a high school football game or some other sporting event?

Anonymous said...

Typical American life? Just sit around and watch TV. That should cover it, I think.

But if you wanted to actually do something, Liz's idea about a high school football game is a great one. You also can't skip the shopping mall, or even the grocery store for that matter.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a great experience for all of you! Are you going to make him watch Studio 60? (ha ha) Hopefully he will also get to spend time stuck in traffic - oh wait, he probably already did that in LA. Oh, "World" Series!


Jeff and Charli Lee said...

I like the idea of a "short-term" exchange student. We've talked about taking in a student but have been nervous about committing to an entire schoolyear with an extra teenager in the house. But having one for a week or two would be a blast. We'll have to check into this. Thanks for the idea!

Mooselet said...

A good friend of mine recently hosted two brothers from Taiwan and she brought them to a rugby game. Our home team's mascot was a horse, and there was a real horse trotting around the field. The youngest boy was mightily disappointed when the opposing team's mascot, a tiger, was no where to be found. :-) Seriously, a sports event is a must.

Jennine said...'re lucky! I've always wanted to host an exchange student but I can't until my children learn to stop leaving floaters in the toilet. I'd hate for a foreigner to return home with that image and impression.

Too bad you can't bring him with to jury duty.

J.Po said...

What, yello, no Tony Luke's?

We've had the pleasure of hosting a Bosnian high school student in our home for three years (! What were we thinking?) - she has since graduated college (still in Philly area, so she was able to come "home" on weekends if she wanted to chill, and is now in medical school here, fully intending to go back to Bosnia when she's finished. Some day when I have a lot of time and inspiration, I'll blog about's been an incredible experience, and great to connect with her family (who has come here for both her HS and college graduation)...she's part of the family now. Always great to connect and learn from those from other cultures...though I might recommend a more manageable dose like you have!

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