St. Charles woman welcomes Chinese girls for first Thanksgiving
|On Monday, Nov. 19, Xiaochen Wang (from left), Elizabeth Reyes and Rong Rong create Thanksgiving dinner place cards using the tried and true method of tracing their hand for the turkey outline at Reyes' St. Charles home where Wang and Rong will have their first Thanksgiving dinner. (Staff photo by Bill Ackerman - email@example.com)|
Chinese student Rong Rong will be celebrating her first Thanksgiving in St. Charles this week and thinks the holiday might be similar to the Moon Festival observed in China.
During the Moon Festival, Rong said family from around the country comes together for dinner and a party.
“My host mom (in St. Charles) has been decorating,” Rong said. “She said we’ll eat turkey and have a big party. I don’t know much about (Thanksgiving).”
Rong, 21, and Xiaochen Wang, 20, are students at Elgin Community College and are part of the college’s pilot HomeStay program this fall.
They are staying with Elizabeth Reyes of St. Charles, who is the director of the college’s Intensive English Program.
“As a community college, we can’t have dorms, so we thought of HomeStay,” Reyes said.
Rong and Wang are currently the only students in the program, but Reyes said college officials will soon be expanding HomeStay.
“We’ve made it a priority at the college to increase our foreign student enrollment,” Reyes said. “... We’re reaching out the community for host families.”
College officials are looking to attract students from fast-growing countries with emerging economies, which are Brazil, Russia, India and China.
So far, Reyes said the program has been going well.
“It’s been lovely,” Reyes said. “I think it’s easier for (Rong and Wang) to be here together. They want to study and absorb everything they can about our culture.”
The girls celebrated their first Halloween this year.
“Halloween is so cool,” Wang said. “We went to Six Flags.”
The girls also witnessed their first U.S. presidential election.
“They were very fascinated about our election process,” Reyes said.
Before the votes were tallied, Reyes said they kept asking if she was sure she didn’t know who the next president was going to be.
“They know who the next president is five years in advance,” Reyes said.
She said the girls also love going into Chicago for sight-seeing and going shopping.
The girls go shopping with Reyes’ daughters, who are about the same age, who offer fashion tips.
“We didn’t know which clothing stores were good for us to shop,” Rong said. “(Reyes’ daughters) give us a lot of advice.”
At first, the girls were very nervous about being here mostly because of the language barriers.
“I was afraid all the time because I was worried I couldn’t understand people or people couldn’t understand me,” Rong said.
But as her English improved, she became more comfortable.
Rong said she wasn’t too shocked by American people or their culture.
“Americans are very friendly and open-minded,” Rong said. “China now is open to the world. I think I can get used to it here.”
For Thanksgiving, Wang said she is excited to meet the rest of Reyes’s family.
“Maybe, we’ll try to do some Chinese food, too,” Wang said.
Rong said she's looking forward to not only the Thanksgiving get-together, but also shopping on Black Friday.
“I have a long list,” she said. “My friends want clothes, a computer, a camera.”
Wang said she knew little about Thanksgiving before coming to the United States. She said she thought the celebration was about gathering and showing thanks to your parents, but then learned it was based on a period of history.
Aside from celebrating new holidays, Rong said she's noticed cultural differences in the classroom and in home life, as well.
She said she noticed that Americans tend to focus on individualism, and parents here encourage their children rather than push them to make certain decisions. Classes are a little less formal here, she said.
“Teachers give students more space to learn by themselves. ... Here, the classroom is very comfortable and easy,” she said. “In China, the classroom is more formal. Students raise hands, when you have permission, you stand up, ask a question and sit. It's very formal.”
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