Hosts with the Most, Part 2: Interns!

As promised, this week Immersed brings you what the hosting experience is like from a slightly different host family experience: hosting The New Century School interns!

Meet the Interns

First up, let’s meet the interns! “Rocky” and “Carlson” (nicknames) are both from Beijing, China and attend (Rocky) or attended (Carson) Beijing Normal University, although they did not know each other back home. They served as TNCS in-class assistants from January 17th through February 15th. Both had wonderful experiences and were thrilled to have been at TNCS. They loved every minute of it! As you will very quickly see, TNCS was incredibly fortunate to have welcomed them. They are two very special people and were universally loved by staff and students alike during their stay.

img_0710Rocky, age 23, was in Kiley Stasch’s kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom and also helped Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”). A graduate law student in his first semester, he naturally organizes his thoughts and draws logical connections. Thus, he describes the three aspects of his visit to the United States that made it so meaningful to him:

The first is travel. I used my free time to visit places around the United States, like New York City, Philadelphia, and New Haven to visit Yale University law school. I also went to a lot of museums. The second is the time I spent with my host family. They are so nice and so good. They provided a lot of resources for us and a lot of help. [Ed. note: Awwwwwwwww!] The third part is the volunteer experience. I’m enjoying this time with the children very much. It’s hard to express how much knowledge I learned from this experience, but I can say that it was a very valuable time for me and for my life. I will never forget it. It’s going to be a very beautiful memory.

You might be wondering how and why a future criminal lawyer ended up volunteering in childhood education. Rocky explains, “The answer is very easy. As an undergraduate, I majored in physical education.” Not surprisingly, then, one of his favorite teaching moments at TNCS was when he got to teach t’ai chi to the elementary and middle school students. “I’m so happy they liked it!” he said. As it turns out, Rocky is a national champion (and now the origin of his nickname starts to become clear) of t’ai chi in China.

Regarding the students, he found them “open” and “full of energy,” qualities that he found both endearing as well as helpful. Communicating and interacting with them was very easy, he says, whereas Chinese kids of the same age are generally pretty shy. “They don’t want to talk. They’ll just work by themselves. I was glad to find that Ms. Stasch’s students had no trouble asking for my help or to play games.”

After departing Baltimore, the two interns were headed to Chicago. From there, Carlson headed home and Rocky made one final trip to Los Angeles to visit some Chinese friends studying at UCLA before returning to China by February 25th to resume graduate school studies.

img_0714Carson, age 25 and a postgraduate in child development psychology, interned in Mr. McGonigal’s 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom. Although not his first time to North America (he was once an exchange student in Canada), this was his first visit to the United States. He describes his experience this way:

During this month, the experience has been very special and a chance to compare the characteristics of Chinese and American educational systems. I think they are very different. American students are very active, especially in the class. In the classroom I volunteered in, the students are so open. The answers they gave to questions from the teacher impressed me. They are very clever and very cute.

Carson found that the lack of reserve he saw in TNCS students led them to make intellectual discoveries and be receptive and curious. This was a very positive aspect of American education in his estimation. On why he wanted this volunteer experience, he says, “I wanted to learn more about the characteristics of children and the differences in the psychology between American and Chinese students. It’s interesting and useful research for me in my future career.”

He also enjoyed traveling to various cities around the country, with the museums in Washington, D.C. being a highlight for him. “It was amazing for me to learn more about American culture,” he said.

Carson says he will miss a lot about his experience once he has returned home, but one thing he will remember fondly was celebrating Chinese New Year abroad for the first time. “It was a very special experience for me,” he smiled. Top of the list, though, is his host family [Ed note: Awwwwwww!].

Meet the Host Family

As described, a huge part of the richness of both interns’ exchange experience was their host family, the Browning/Desais. After reading TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies’ email describing the need for wintertime host families, they thought hosting would be a lot of fun for their three children. “The process through the agency was very easy,” said Ms. Browning, “we just filled out a 1-page form and were sent a 25-page handbook. The agency checked in with us after the first day and went over everyone’s roles and responsibilities.”

We wanted two interns,” she explained, “and that worked out really well. They did their homework [assigned by their agency and related to their volunteer program] together, hung around together, compared notes, etc.”

Fun for the children happened in spades, but Ms. Browning was pleasantly surprised by how much she and her husband also enjoyed hanging out with Rocky and Carson after the kids went to bed. “They were super interesting to talk to,” she said, “and we all had a lot of fun together.”

It was clear to the Browning/Desais that the interns were reaping a lot from their exchange experience. “They were so nice and so grateful to be here. Everything was an honor for them, they said—even washing the dishes, which we did not expect them to do! That was an added perk!” she laughed. They lent their helping hands frequently—and, with two students to get to TNCS plus a baby (and a cello), Ms. Browning was appreciative of their innate desire to be of service in small ways such as holding doors open for her.

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Besides the fun it promised, the Browning/Desais had another impetus for becoming a host family. The saw it as a way to make a statement about welcoming people from other countries: “We want to show our kids who we are and what this kind of ‘mini-activism’ can do” she explained. Hosting also ties into TNCS’s ethos, and the Browning/Desais have been part of the TNCS community for years.

“We got to experience Chinese New Year (Rocky is a rooster in the Chinese zodiac and Carson a goat, by the way) with them, and that was great. We went to D.C. to see the celebration at the Sackler and Ripley Center at the Smithsonian, which was spectacular. Rocky and Carson then took the “wheel” and escorted them to Chinatown for a hotpot meal, a new experience for the Browning/Desais and featuring such exotic ingredients as cowtail.

As other host families have similarly described, time together was precious, and there never seems to be enough of it. “They traveled around some,” said Ms. Browning,” “but when they were in Baltimore, they were with us 100%.” Other outings they enjoyed together included TNCS’s night with the Baltimore Blast. Rocky and Carson had never seen a soccer match, let alone a live one, and they were amazed. They also got to watch their first Super Bowl, but Ms. Browning reports that despite the excitement of that game, they were much more impressed by Lady Gaga’s halftime show. (Of course, things would have been different had the Ravens been playing.)

“Other than that, we spent a lot of time just hanging out,” said Ms. Browning. Both interns liked to work out, and Rocky gave some more personalized t’ai chi lessons to the Desai children, which the kids not only loved but was also a great way for them to expend energy before bedtime!

The difference in personality between the two interns also played well with the Desai children. “Rocky was the energetic, playful one, and Carson was the love-bug,” said Ms. Browning. The two complemented each other perfectly, she said. Another unexpected benefit was hearing about their kids’ academic performance, especially regarding their Chinese language ability, from the interns’ unique vantage point as classroom volunteers and native Chinese speakers.

Once again, feeding their interns proved to be one of the biggest surprises the Browning/Desais met with, but not in the same way that some of TNCS’s other host families have described (see Hosts with the Most, Part 1). They happily ate whatever was served to them (spaghetti was not a breakfast requirement!), but, given his energy expenditure and to maintain his muscle volume, Rocky has to eat four times the amount of protein an average adult male consumes. Ms. Browning quickly adjusted and quadrupled every recipe she cooked, and she made sure she prepared a wide variety of foods so they could try lots of new things, such as tacos and lasagne. “It was a real ego-booster—they even took pictures of the meals.” Fortunately, the Browning/Desais got stipends for hosting each intern that covered the cost of room and board. Also, whereas the younger exchange students were not accustomed to eating cold meals, Rocky and Carson fell immediately in love with sandwiches. Chili was Rocky’s favorite, though, which they ate for the first time while watching the “Big Game,” and sweets also were a big deal, because at home he’s always training and has to avoid sugar altogether. They also enjoyed a visit to MOM’s organic market and were amazed by some of the unfamiliar vegetables, let alone the section of sustainable proteins (colloquially known as the “bar of dead bugs”).

The Browning/Desais also hosted a student age 7 during the Winter Exchange Program and so have a dual perspective on hosting. The student’s stay overlapped with Rocky’s and Carson’s, but she was shy and did not interact much with the interns. The Browning/Desais are emphatic that they would host again but feel that having interns rather than students was a better fit for their household, at least for the time being.

Carson sums up the experience he and Rocky shared with the Browning/Desais with these heartwarming words:

In my homestay, something very good happened. They are very nice and made me feel at home. I have many words to express, but it’s very difficult. In one word, I would say, “unforgettable.” If I have any opportunity to come again, I definitely want to. It was very special.

TNCS Celebrates the Year of the Rooster!

January 28th marked the 2017 Lunar New Year, also known in China as the Spring Festival (Chūn Jié; 春節), and rang in Year of the Rooster. The New Century School honored many Chinese New Year traditions schoolwide the day before on New Year’s Eve, which is considered Day 1 of the overall festivities.

Organized primarily by Wei Li (Li Laoshi) and Yu Lin (Lin Laoshi), there were dances mimicking the traditional Lion Dance in the pre-primary and primary classrooms; lower elementary students made beautiful spherical lanterns; and upper elementary and middle-school students passed hongbao (红包), red envelopes containing money or gifts to confer good luck (as well as money) to the recipients. Everyone got to eat delicious homemade vegetarian dumplings (with Kindergarten classes and up making their own), another good-luck custom in China on this special occasion.

In China, additional ongoing activities range from thorough housecleaning to shopping to setting off firecrackers. Li Laoshi, who was born in a Dog Year, explains what Chinese New Year means to her and why she was inspired to make TNCS’s celebrations so special:

I think Chinese New Year is the most important festival for Chinese, especially for people who are abroad. It always reminds us where our relatives’ hometown and roots are. It’s also like a connection to gather Chinese people who live here all together during this festival. Chinese New Year is way more than just eating dumplings and passing red envelopes but the existence of Chinese spirit. I feel so proud Chinese New Year is being accepted by increasing people and is playing a more influential role around the whole world.

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img_0596It just so happened that the elementary and middle-school students got another special treat when one of their schoolmates, a 2nd-grader, performed two Chinese opera songs in full costume. See her amazing performances here:

For yet one more reason, this Chinese New Year celebration was extra special. It was the last day that the group of visiting Chinese elementary and middle-school students would be spending in Baltimore with their newfound TNCS friends. (Details about their extraordinary visit will be the topic of next week’s Immersed.) This was truly an authentic celebration.

The fun didn’t end last Friday, though, as Chinese New Year is celebrated for 16 days (from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, which takes place on February 15th). Today marks Day 8, a very auspicious day, according to Chinese tradition. Spend it eating food you love, with the people you love.

In closing, here are some predictions broken down by Chinese zodiac sign to give you (most of you, anyway) something to really crow about, as befits Year of the Fire Rooster!

  • Natives of the year of the rooster: You will easily resolve problems that cross your path, especially because you can count on support from powerful and influential people this year.
  • Natives of the year of the rat: Look forward to enjoying many happy events, including financial success.
  • Natives of the year of the ox: You will enjoy unexpected success and unforeseen events.
  • Natives of the year of the tiger: You will not lack anything, enjoying a special astral protection and devoted friends that will come to your aid, even in the last minute.
  • Natives of the year of the dragon: For you, 2017 will be full of positive events and very good news, career progress, and profitable businesses.
  • Natives of the year of the snake: Anticipate standing out professionally and being promoted.
  • Natives of the year of the horse: This could be a good year, with personal and financial achievements, but imbalance and career changes could prevail, making you irritable and mischievous.
  • Natives of the year of the goat: Your expenditures may outrun your income this year, potentially leading to problems with the family and loved ones, who may try to get you back on track.
  • Natives of the year of the monkey: For you, 2017 is going to be really good, especially from a romantic point of view.
  • Natives of the year of the rabbit: This year may bring you difficulty and tension regarding material aspects.
  • Natives of the year of the boar: For you, this may be a busy and stressful year due to potential financial or professional problems that will require patience and tenacity to be resolved.
  • Natives of the year of the dog: Some unexpected problems in health and romance might occur.

On the bright side, overall this year, people will be more polite and less stubborn (but they may have the tendency to complicate things); 2017 is oriented toward progress, honor, and maximum integrity, with people learning to moderate themselves.

Xīnnián kuàilè (新年快乐)!

TNCS Celebrates Chinese New Year!

The Chinese Lunar New Year is always a big event at The New Century School, a time to reflect on all that has happened during the prior year, connect with family and friends, and eat delicious foods, all to start the new year off in a positive way. This year is Year of The Fire Monkey, and it starts Monday, February 8th. To gear up for this special occasion, TNCS elementary students attended a presentation on China On Friday morning.

Given by a TNCS parent volunteer, the presentation was intended to not only celebrate Chinese culture and customs, but also to invite the elementary attendees to compare and contrast what primary and secondary education looks like in China to their own experiences here as U.S. students. Please excuse generalizations (of both schooling styles), which were made simply for the purposes of the exercise and not to pass judgment on either.

Although at first glance, Chinese and U.S. schools looked pretty similar to the audience, with lots of smiling faces and a happy sort of hubbub going on around campus, the differences became more evident once inside the classroom. Discipline and respect are highly prized in the Chinese classroom, meaning that kids are not permitted to fidget and must sit quietly—on their hands, in point of fact—until called on by the teacher. TNCS students, by contrast, are given the license to sit, stand, or recline where and how they wish at many points during the day so long as they demonstrate that they can handle this freedom and attend to their scholastic pursuits.

Advantages and disadvantages are evident in both approaches. TNCS students get to relax a little as well as not have to constantly fight their very natural instincts to move around, but the Chinese way allows up to 50 students per class to attend to a lesson without potential distractions from surrounding students.

Another point that TNCS students were asked to consider involved what are called “specials” at TNCS and include The Arts and physical education. In China, students are asked to replicate crafts and artwork from a model as well as exercise in perfect unison, and they are held to a very high standard of performance. This can mean that they are not given much opportunity to be creative or exhibit individuality in a given school day, although the skills they master are certainly impressive. U.S. students, by contrast, are frequently encouraged to find their unique identity and then express the heck out of it. However, they may not develop technical mastery of what inspires them at as young an age as do their Chinese counterparts. So, again, one approach might work for some, another for others.

The outcomes of these different approaches are, in some ways, “worlds apart.” While it’s certainly true that Chinese students command a large body of information and demonstrate their capacity for retention at test time, some of their teachers commented on their inability to think for themselves in non-academic environments. Many Western students experience nearly the exact opposite, following their individual paths of inquiry wherever they might lead and employing critical thinking and creative problem-solving to get them down the road. However, the United States ranks far below China (and 20 or so other countries) in measurable scholastic skills like math. This might matter a lot to some, less so to others, but once more the point is in exploring the two styles. Ultimately, it’s probably true that neither educational approach is perfectly ideal across all settings or contexts.

Nevertheless, TNCS students enjoyed teasing out both the differences and the parallels, and it was gratifying to see them imagining themselves in the shoes of a Chinese student. Their observations were insightful and even sometimes incisive. It’s a good bet that many of them would like to visit China for themselves in the near future.

In the meantime, they can content themselves with the video below of the slides presented today in addition to turning their thoughts to the approaching lunar new year, which Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi are sure to help them celebrate with a bang! We hope that this Monkey Year brings you and yours health and happiness!

TNCS Rings in the Year of the Sheep!

chinese-zodiac

Each of the 12 zodiac signs are represented by an animal. This year, 4713, is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat).

As always at The New Century School, the Chinese Lunar New Year is a big deal. It brings numerous opportunities to practice spoken and written Mandarin as well as the chance to participate in Chinese cultural celebrations. This year, Year of the Sheep (Yáng de yī nián, 羊的一年), New Year celebrations started on February 19th and will continue through March 5th. An ancient legend credits Buddha with creating the Chinese zodiac, when he asked all animals to meet him one Chinese New Year and named a year after each of the 12 who arrived. He also proclaimed that a person’s attributes would correspond with the traits of the animal whose year he or she is born in. Those born in sheep (some say goat) years tend to be artistic, charming, sensitive, and sweet, and it is considered the most creative sign in the Chinese zodiac. Not surprisingly, then, Michelangelo, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain were “sheep.”

At TNCS, where language-learning is the hallmark of the school’s scholastic identity, culture and customs intersect with communication to enhance language acquisition. Cultural understanding is essential to language learning. Experiencing another culture develops understanding of its relationship to its corresponding language as well as deepens the student’s appreciation of his or her native culture. Students begin to see other people’s points of view, ways of life, and contributions to the world (see TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs).

The benefits are, therefore, obvious, but the plain fact is, Chinese New Year is fun! School-wide, classes are honoring the New Year with a variety of activities. In addition to their regular Mandarin studies, elementary students have made dumplings (包了饺子) as well as wove traditional silk bracelets (布纹手镯).

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And, for the third year running, TNCS students performed at Port Discovery before a proud audience of parents. Xie Laoshi once again outdid herself in organizing and emceeing this eagerly anticipated annual tradition. (See Year of the Horse Festivities Giddy-Up at TNCS and Charmed by TNCS’s Year of the Snake Performance for highlights from the previous 2 years.)

And now for the moments you’ve all been waiting for—here are the performances! TNCS kindergarteners/1st-graders sang first about a dog with a bone and then performed a chant.

TNCS lower elementary students next took the stage for their song.

The older elementary students performed next with songs and some exciting Chinese drumming.

The whole gang convened at the end for the grand finale about achieving international peace!

Readers, we wish you peace and good health in the Year of the Sheep!

Year of the Horse Festivities Giddy-Up at TNCS

Lunar New year celebration is a big event at The New Century School! Enter a world of food, music, culture, and fun!

Lunar New year celebration is a big event at The New Century School! Enter a world of food, music, culture, and fun!

Chinese Lunar New Year is a big deal at The New Century School. It affords numerous opportunities to practice spoken and written Mandarin, but it also presents a window into a pinnacle of Asian culture. This year, the New Year celebrations started on January 31 and will end today, February 14. At TNCS, where language-learning is the hallmark of the school’s scholastic identity, culture and customs intersect with communication to enhance language acquisition. Cultural understanding is essential to language learning. Experiencing another culture develops understanding of its relationship to its corresponding language as well as deepens the student’s appreciation of his or her native culture. Students begin to see other people’s points of view, ways of life, and contributions to the world (see TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs).

The benefits are, therefore, obvious, but the plain fact is, Chinese New Year is fun! (And captivated kids are primed for learning!) This year is Year of the Horse (马年 [mǎ nián]), which is part of a 12-year cycle of animals (rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig) comprising the Chinese zodiac. Each animal in turn interacts with the five elements: wood, metal, fire, water, and earth. This is year of the wood horse, taking over from the year of the water snake. In Chinese lore, the horse represents travel, competition, and victory and is a symbol of leadership, nobility, and freedom. Those born in the Year of the Horse (2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, and 1942) are said to be cheerful, popular, and fun-loving. Click here for other interesting tidbits about the Year of the Horse.

TNCS elementary students performed two Chinese songs at Port Discovery to celebrate Chinese New Year.

TNCS elementary students performed two Chinese songs at Port Discovery to celebrate Chinese New Year.

School-wide, classes honored the New Year with a variety of activities. In addition to their regular Mandarin studies, elementary students learned Chinese paper cutting (剪纸) and how to make traditional Chinese New Year cake and dumplings, did special art projects, shared traditional stories, and sang songs. They performed two of their new songs at Port Discovery on Saturday, February 8th for a proud audience of parents. Xie Laoshi said, “I’m really proud of the students. They sang their songs very well!” Elementary students also read about Chinese New Year in Spanish!

Not only do TNCS students learn both Chinese and Spanish, but they also learn about China---in Spanish!

Not only do TNCS students learn both Chinese and Spanish, but they also learn about China—in Spanish!

Primary students also made dumplings and learned new words and songs relating to Chinese New Year:

  • “Singing and Smiling”: 歌声与微笑 (song)
  • “Happy Chinese New Year”: 新年好 (song)
  • “That’s Wrong, That’s Wrong”: 不对, 不对 (story about a family preparing for a New Year celebration, but everything goes wrong)
  • “Feet”: 脚 (nursery rhyme incorporating movement)
  • “Looking for a friend”: 找朋友 (game)

All students learned about customs that take place during Chinese New Year celebrations, such as:

  • 做饺子: To make dumplings
  • 拿红包: To receive red envelopes
  • 放鞭炮: To set off firecrackers
  • 吃汤圆: To eat tangyuan (boiled balls of glutinous rice flour, eaten during the Lantern festival)
  • 挂灯笼: To hang lanterns

Readers, we wish you peace and good health in the Year of the Horse (馬年安康, mǎ nián ān kāng)!

Charmed by TNCS’s Year of the Snake Performance

February 10th, 2013 marked the beginning of The Year of the Snake (蛇 Shé) in the Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.  Although in Chinese lore the snake year is commonly considered less propitious than its predecessor (Year of the Dragon), The New Century School rang in the new year in high style. The meteor strikes, nightmare cruises, and olympic athlete scandals that the lunar year commenced with notwithstanding, TNCS honored the snake with weeklong festivities (such as making and eating dumplings, or 饺 jiǎo), culminating with a special performance at Port Discovery on Saturday, February 16th.

This was TNCS’s second annual Port Discovery performance in honor of Chinese New Year, and the primary and elementary students just loved it! The Chinese teachers spent weeks teaching them the songs and poems that made up the program. Chen Laoshi (a.k.a. Charlotte) and Xue Laoshi (a.k.a Cici, or 薛雪) presided over the actual performance, keeping their little red-and-gold-garbed snakes, mice, roosters, dragons, etc. on task. Xue Laoshi  says, “I am so proud of all the students. They all did a good job.”

The performance comprised two songs and a poem. Xue Laoshi explains that the first song was the Happy New Year song, sung by the primary students. Next, the primary and elementary students together sang the Chinese Zodiac Song and acted out the characters they were describing. Lastly, the elementary students recited a famous Chinese poem about a snowy landscape. Because the poem is quite long, they read in unison from placards printed with both English phonetic and Chinese characters. The students are clearly making remarkable progress—not only can they speak Mandarin beautifully, but they can also read and write it!

Xue Laoshi isn’t prepared to stop there, however. She says, “For the Year of Snake, I plan to help the students make even more progress. Maybe they will even tell you a story in Chinese not just read it!”

Sounds like this Year of the Snake might not be so bad after all!