Univ. Communications – There are probably few of us out there who are unfamiliar with the exciting but scary feeling of being alone in a new place. You may remember your first day of college or joining an organization. Though it’s a feeling we can all relate to, it is certainly amplified when one is in a foreign country and trying to speak a foreign language. The Chinese Student Organization (CSA) has recently resolved to ease the stress of the college transition for the international Chinese students arriving to the University every semester by starting a host family program.
The idea for the host family program was conceived in the wake of the tragic death of Eastman School freshman Shibai “Victor” Jia last August. After the incident, Jin Wu, principal of the Chinese School of Rochester, approached CSA president Alexander Wei ’12, and proposed to link up international Chinese students with local families. The hope was that providing students with those connections as soon as they arrive would help alleviate the stress and disorientation of the experience and perhaps prevent similar tragedies in the future.
“Due to the fact that a lot of us in CSA are American-born and have parents who went through the process of coming as an international student and weathering the cultural pressures as well as their education, we knew what hardships they faced,” says Wei.
Incoming Chinese students now have the option to be matched with a local Chinese or American family. Since November, 30 students have signed up to participate. The host families meet with the students for social outings, provide help navigating through visa issues, and open their homes to the students for holidays. For the students choosing a Chinese host family it is an opportunity to find a comfortable environment resembling their home. The students who prefer to be matched with an American family enjoy a chance to improve their English communication skills and learn about family life in the States.
“This kind of program is a good opportunity to connect you with some groups of people, and they’re also willing to help you get used to this new environment,” says freshman and host family program participant Hang “Joy” Che, who chose to be matched with an American family. In addition to improving her English, Che was happy to bond with her family over Chinese calligraphy and discover American cultural particularities, such as the display of family photos in frames rather than just albums as is customary in China. “We learn and help each other and they also want to learn Chinese culture, so we have some feedback from each other. It’s really nice,” says Che.
Besides the host family program, which has forged bonds between the UR students and community members, CSA participates in other efforts to build intercultural understanding and connect the University with the city of Rochester. CSA sends student teaching assistants to the Chinese School every week to help teach Chinese to children. They also partner with the school and organize educational and cultural programs for parents adopting children from China.
Ultimately, the organization’s goal is to build mutual understanding and solidarity between Americans and Chinese on campus and in the city. “We like to run events where we can integrate both American and Chinese populations,” says Wei. The annual China Nite and Asian Heritage Month events are meant to bring students and community members together to share Chinese culture while the group’s community service projects foster cross cultural bonding over shared social values.
Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia (www.out-of-russia.com) and the other to photography (www.myorientalism.com).
Photos are compliments of the Chinese Student Association. Photo 1 is of CSA president Alex Wei and Vice President, Moxi Zhou, with an appreciation plaque given to the CSA by the Chinese School. Photo 2 is of Chinese School Students performing at China Nite, held on Saturday, Feb 11, 2012.