A day at EFZ

Zoë Gilbard '14

A peek out the curtain at 6:45 am told me that Shang Hai still lay beneath my window, and I had not, during the night, been transported back to my bed in New Jersey. The heavy fog hung low in the dull morning light, and the sky scrapers in the distance were only half visible within the low hanging cloud bank. A new dawn, a new day, and my roommate Danielle and I were ready for whatever new experiences and challenges we were to be presented with in the coming hours. Our breakfast, as it has been every morning, consisted of many different types of buns and dumplings with unique fillings. I sampled one of each, discovering that while some had meat, others were sweeter and filled with bean paste. Breakfast at EFZ is a real favorite among the Peddie kids, and we all look forward to the spread of "baozi" and "jiaozi" the cooks lay out for us in the mornings.

After our meal, our host partners brought us to their classrooms to observe for a few hours. I entered the classroom to see the wondering faces of 44 students. Large glass windows filter foggy light through leftover red new years decals, and fluorescent lights add to the bright white glow of the crowded classroom. Everyone seemed to keep some part of their uniformed body moving to avoid feeling the cold air on their skin. I could not help but wiggle my own toes within my shoe. I observed an English class, a physics class, a math class, and a history class. The English teacher was enthusiastic and energetic for 7:55 in the morning, giving all of the sleepy students the boost they needed to become engaged. There was obvious affection for this teacher, Lily, as all of the kids made jokes with her and laughed along with her at silly poems they were writing. The topic of the day was plants, and so the teacher pulled up a list of the meanings of different types of flowers on the projection screen. I learned, along with the students, that dark crimson roses are only to be given to people in mourning, while a bunch of red and white roses are given by lovers to signify togetherness. The students, while they still have a lot to learn, have wonderful English and they work hard to improve. At the break between classes, I introduced myself to the entire classroom in Chinese. They were really impressed by the fact that foreigners endeavor to learn their language, and I was proud to represent Peddie's language program.

After lunch we traveled to Shang Hai's Fu Dan University to meet the dean of the American Studies Program there, Shen Ding Li. Professor Shen talked to us about the history of Chinese government, Sino-American relations, and China's current view of other countries in the world. He told us that "studying abroad makes you open minded and ready to be a good leader" and that by visiting China, we are not only learning Chinese culture, but helping them to understand our own country. This made all of us even more conscious of the fact that we are here representing not only ourselves, but our school, our families, and our entire country. That's a lot of pressure!

Mr. Gao had invited a few EFZ alumni and one Peddie alumnus who are students at Fu Dan University to come and meet us to have dinner. All together, we made our way to a local restaurant. A buffet of raw meat and vegetables were laid out for us, and individual griddles sizzled with oil on each of our tables. With the pairs of metal tongs we were given, all of the Peddie students selected their own cuts of meats to drop onto the grill. We cooked for ourselves right at the table, and then filled up on little cakes and puddings as well. The hot oil got slightly out of control, splashing a few of us, but other than that, we were successful at our first table-cooking experience!

Traveling is always a great experience because one gets to see, touch, taste, feel, and hear new places and people. I feel that I always run a great risk for "snap judgments." I may at first, before even seeing the place or the people, judge them because of stereotypes. I often realize what my brutal, American mind is doing, and I stop myself before harm is caused. My observations, experiences, interactions, and even photographs are my field exploration, and my attempt at grasping the essence of that particular culture. Professor Shen was right; traveling has made me not nearly as quick to judge, and I really enjoy getting to understand a culture through observation. I have been so surprised at what I have observed here; from people's reactions to seeing Americans walking around their streets, to eating many different foods I would never have tried before. Experiencing anything for the first time is incredible, but I have found that there are two approaches that people generally take towards new experiences. Some people will run through the experience, just to have done it, but not really gathering any information. Other people will take their time and feel, see, touch, taste, and hear, so that they have the memories and the stories to hold on to for later. I am trying my hardest to take my time here, on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I am stopping at every corner to look back at where I have just come from.