February 15, 2010

Cultural exchange links students from U.S. and China

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Noah Wilder's chopsticks flopped between his fork-friendly fingers as he manipulated the meat filling from a bowl into a small dumpling shell. Then he used his fingers to pinch the dough together to form a Chinese dumpling, as instructed by Bo Lei, an accounting student at Southern New Hampshire University.
     “I didn't do very well,” said Wilder. “I think I'll keep eating them, but only if I can get someone else to make them.”
     Friday's dumpling demo was meant to give West Running Brook middle schoolers a taste of authentic Chinese culture. It was also meant to tie in with the celebration of Chinese New Year, which began yesterday.
     But it was also a way of bringing international college students together with American school kids for a morning of fun-filled cultural exchange.
     In one classroom the seventh-graders learned about the origins of the Chinese Zodiac and why fireworks are an important part of the tradition. Xi Feng, who is earning his master's in information technology at SNHU, explained that in ancient times, every year on the same day a monster named “Nian,” would come into the village and eat people.
     “Nian translates to “year,” said Xi Feng, writing the Chinese characters for the monster's name on the board. “A wise man had an idea of how to scare the monster away. They burned bamboo, which is hollow, and makes noise and sparks when you burn it. His idea worked, and so every year after that, the people would celebrate that they could live safely from the monster by lighting fireworks.”
     He was one of a fleet of SNHU students who are guided through their college experience by Debbie Donnelly, assistant director of the university's International Student Services.
     “Many schools request that students come to talk to classes around Chinese New Year,” Donnelly said. “It's really fun for our students to go out into the public schools and see how American students learn. And it's also fun for the American students, to have a day like this one to really have some fun while learning about another culture.”
     In another classroom, students learned about the intricate art of paper cutting, and the significance of the red envelope, in Chinese culture, which is given by elders to children on special occasions, usually containing money.
WRB teacher Maria Green.
     Maobo Sun and his wife, Xuefei Zhu, were teaching students in another classroom how to create Chinese calligraphy using a large paint brush and black ink.
     “Wonderful,” said Xuefei Zhu, after Zachary Derepentigny replicated the Chinese character for “good luck” with the jumbo brush.
     West Running Brook math teacher Maria Green said she had as much fun learning as her students did.
     “Each presentation engaged a different part of the students' brains – culture, storytelling, the history of paper, making dumplings,” Green said.
     “It's not only great to be able to expose them to other cultures, which helps them to respect and understand their differences. But the thing I think is most important is that this is the generation that will be working globally. They are the ones who need to understand that they are living in a world culture. Understanding our differences is the beginning of understanding how much we have in common,” Green said.

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