True cultural exchange

Over spring break, students and faculty chaperones traveled to Shanghai to visit Peddie's sister school, EFZ. Each student had a homestay experience with a fellow EFZ student in addition to a host of group activities. In addition, Peddie students completed an independent project with the assistance of an EFZ student partner.

From Bianca:

"Your Chinese this week is much better than last week’s. And you’re speaking [English] faster than you did last week."

This was an observation made by my host family during my second visit to their home, one week after the first,  that I’m both proud and a bit embarrassed to hear. Proud because…yes…the last 2.5 years of Chinese are “finally bearing fruit,” as 高师傅 (GaoShiFu, or Mr. Gao) would say. My English being faster than last week… I hope that’s because, leading up to the first homestay, I’d clocked in approximately zero hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours. Something else tells me it was to make myself as intentional and well-understood as possible in a new place where my Mandarin was as legitimate as American food would be compared to non-Americanized Chinese cuisine.

Heading back to my home away from home, we found our first charge in Old Shanghai. Inconspicuously blending into the once-happening area of 1920s Shanghai is the city's first developmental disabilities school and research center. It is definitely an intimate space… it only hosts about 30 kids, but the school is a safe haven for a country which is overall still developing its awareness in this area.

Our night on the town had a touristy and exciting vibe. My host family toured me through the Expo and historical education area, Northwestern-Chinese cuisine, and the city center’s grocery store. From the new vegetables we enjoyed at dinner to the ramp-escalator in the grocery store, Shanghai’s unique culture continues to grab my attention everywhere my host family shows me.

Departure time signaled a particularly immersive chapter of the journey. Touring the farmer’s market and plant festival (and then downing my first coffee in three years…) allowed quality last minute, in-person time. Within the previous night and this morning, it’s fair to say my host family probably knows more about me than some of my years-long friends. From family traditions to personal interests, the four of us transcended cultures and epitomized the purpose of this trip: cultural exchange. The other crucial element—forging friendships during and after the trip—is definitely mission accomplished. 
Which brings me back to practicing my Mandarin much more often. Now if only I can figure out how to use WeChat…