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Two International Students Experience Chinese New Year

Issue date:2024-03-07


During the Spring Festival holiday, over 50 international students from UWC Changshu China were warmly welcomed by host families throughout China. This was the first time these students celebrated Chinese New Year in China. They not only experienced the unique Chinese New Year traditions, but also had the opportunity to learn about different customs and cultures while forming sincere friendships with their host families.

Esther Qin, a Chinese student, shared her story of taking Sara, an Iranian student, back to her hometown of Harbin to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Gabby, a Vietnamese student, also shared his rich experience with his host family.

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Class of 2026, UWC Changshu China

I am Esther, an FP student from Harbin, China. At the start of the academic year in 2023, the school introduced a host family program during a parents' meeting. After discussing with my parents, we decided to sign up for the program.

During the Spring Festival holiday, I hosted a DP1 student named Sara from Iran. She is currently taking Chinese courses at our school and is pretty good at Chinese.

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I wrote a very long paragraph to introduce Harbin to her, including climate, distance from Changshu, and famous attractions. Harbin is a city located in the northeastern region of China, which is also known as "the Ice City". My parents prepared a whole set of warm clothes for Sara.

Considering that she is a Muslim and does not eat pork, we asked her in advance if she would mind if my family and I eat pork and we prepared a special pot for her to cook non-pork food.


On the first day of our vacation, I made a PowerPoint presentation to introduce Harbin's food, tourist attractions, local culture, and my family to Sara. Together, we made a detailed tour plan and visited Harbin Ice and Snow World, Central Avenue, Sofia Church, and the morning market on Hongzhuan Street.

We also took Sara skiing, which she never did before, but she showed real talent. Traditional northeastern barbecue and iron pot stew are essential when visiting Harbin, so we took her to a local BBQ restaurant, and she loved it.

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During our holiday in Harbin, I gained a deeper understanding and love for my hometown, and I was able to further appreciate the charm of Harbin's ice and snow culture from Sara's perspective.

During the Chinese New Year, Sara had the chance to experience traditional New Year's Eve atmosphere. We put up window paper-cuts, hang lanterns, saw fireworks, made dumplings, and had a Chinese New Year's Eve feast together. I introduced Sara to many Chinese New Year customs, such as putting up Chinese couplets and teaching her the correct order of reading them.

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Sara shared that her favorite Chinese New Year custom is "Yuan Bao Dumplings", which means hiding coins in the dumplings. According to this custom, the person who finds a coin in their dumpling is believed to have good luck and prosperity in the coming year. Sara said, " I was excited to participate in this tradition and eager to see what the upcoming lunar year had in store for me. However, it turned out to be quite amusing that I was the only one who did not find any coins in the dumplings. Despite that, the overall experience was incredibly enjoyable and filled with laughter."

During the vacation, Sara and I chatted about various topics such as our current course selection and the activities we participated in at UWC Changshu China. We also discussed the customs and traditions of different countries. Sara told me a lot about Islamic traditions like praying and Ramadan, and we had in-depth discussions about different cultures. Through these conversations, I gained a deeper understanding of other countries' cultures and a different perspective on Chinese culture.

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The host family program helped us expand our connections from two students to two families. Initially, I was the only one who could communicate with Sara in English, so I served as a bridge between her and my family. However, after a few days, I was surprised to find that my family could communicate directly with Sara using both Chinese and English and even body language.

My family love Sara, and my younger brothers like her, shared with her their favorite toys and enjoy her companion. When we got together with other family members and friends during the vacation, everyone got along with Sara very well. This experience helped me understand the sincerity and good feelings between people of different nations and cultures.

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Sara said, "This was the first time I celebrated the Lunar New Year in China, and it made me feel like I was celebrating the New Year at home in Iran. Surprisingly, I discovered numerous similarities between the Chinese and Iranian New Year celebrations. In Iran, our New Year tradition involves enjoying some Sabzi Polo with Fish, just like one of the traditional dishes in China. Additionally, both cultures have the lovely custom of receiving 'hongbao' from elders.

Meeting many relatives of my host family was heartwarming, as they were all so kind and welcoming. They encouraged me to try their traditional dishes and delicacies. I even received 'hongbao' from the great-grandfather of the family and my host mom. The genuine warmth and kindness of my host family, combined with the opportunity to immerse myself in Chinese traditions, made it an extraordinary and cherished celebration."

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Trying to play "Mahjong" for the first time

Overall, the host family program was a valuable experience, and I am grateful to UWC Changshu China for organizing it. It helped my family and myself get to know Sara and become good friends with her. As Sara mentioned, with love and passion, we will continue to keep in touch, and I think that is what the host family program is all about.

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Class of 2025, UWC Changshu China

Hi! My name is Thiện Bùi, or you can call me Gabby, and I'm from Vietnam. This is my first time coming to China and I have fallen for it since the beginning of the school year. That's why I deeply wanted to have a host family experience for the Spring Festival as this is a great chance for me to deeper explore Chinese culture and traditions, and also a way of learning my favorite language.

My host family includes 4 people, who are Zoe (host mom), Mr. Bai (host dad), Clark and Martin (siblings). At first, we traveled to Shanghai for 2 days and then came to Chengdu to see my host dad’s extended family for a week during the Chinese New Year holiday. Finally, we stayed in Suzhou for nearly a week before I came back to school.

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I still remember the days when I was first having a meeting with Zoe online through Teams a week before the holiday. We had a great time chatting and getting to know each other. Clark, a boy in my host family, even played a song on the piano to welcome me. From that moment, I knew that the Spring Festival would be filled with joy and laughter with these amazing people!

Upon my arrival, I was touched by the warm welcome I received from my host family, who greeted me with an abundance of Vietnamese snacks. It made me feel happy and emotional. Throughout my stay, we played table tennis, walked the dog, played poker, played the piano, studied together, or just simply had deep conversations about life.

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I remembered we were talking about 'Why studying sucks so much!', and talking with Clark and Martin just made me realize that the root problem must lay in 'Why do we have to study?'.  I shared my personal story of once despising studying, but how my perspective has shifted over time as I discovered the true reasons why I attend school – recognizing that education is the most powerful tool for transforming one's life. Together, we recognized that learning extends beyond traditional classroom settings and lectures. Therefore, we were trying to find ways to make studying more engaging and interesting. Our discussions led us to discover innovative approaches to studying besides the conventional ones.

Because my host family loves history, I also had great chances to come to see many different temples and gardens everywhere I’ve been and to listen to the wild stories of ancient heroes and philosophers, such as Confucius and his amazing students. They were always very excited to show me Chinese traditions, and stories and even teach me some funny Chinese slang. Honestly, living in a host family is a unique opportunity for me to immerse myself in the language and culture in a way that I can hardly have in usual classes.

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There's one funny story that I had with my host grandparents in Chengdu. My name is Gabby, but because of some confusion, they called me 盖比(Gaibi) instead, which means chicken leg in Chengdu dialect! The whole family always laughed when they called my name, and after this holiday, I think I have picked up an interesting (and also unique haha) Chinese name for myself!

Chengdu left me with a lot of love. I had a great chance to see the big family, we were having cozy dinners together at a very big round table. Seeing people greeting and passionately talking with their family members after a whole long year being apart touched my heart so much, and I think this is the best thing of the Spring Festival - when we can disconnect from the normal hustle and bustle life, and enjoy the fun time with our loved ones that we have not seen for a long time.

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The smiley faces and welcoming treatment from everyone made me feel like a part of their family. Also, I had the chance to meet Liuxiang, a ninth-grade boy in the extended family, and we shared a lot about the differences between an international student and a local student in China. What touched my heart was when I came back to Changshu, he even sent me the delivery of some Chengdu souvenirs so that I could still remember the great time I had in this beautiful city.

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Chengdu also left me with a lot of food. Friends, if you are looking for a paradise of spicy food, don't hesitate to go to Chengdu! I have tried some iconic dishes, ranging from Sichuan hotpot, Kung Pao chicken to Mapo tofu, which were so amazing. Besides, I observed that Chinese people eat the whole fish in the new year. I found it quite interesting as it is related to a Chinese idiom, "年年有余 (nian nian you yu)", meaning 'to have abundance every year', as the word 'abundance' in Mandarin has the same pronunciation as the word 'fish'.

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The host family experience was so extraordinary for me. It surpassed all my expectations, as I never could have fathomed discovering a genuine sense of family and experiencing the warmth of living with people who not only loved me but also cared for me in a foreign land. It was truly remarkable to find such a deep connection and sense of belonging in a place so unfamiliar to me.

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