By Jane Kuhn and Rick Benesh
The opportunity to host two Chinese students was an unforgettable experience. When Rick and I volunteered for this chance, we really didn’t know what to expect or what we could give to these teenagers. Looking back at it, we truly received more than we gave, learning about their culture, enjoying new experiences together, and having a lot of laughs. We hosted Chenqi Li and Zhuo Liu. Fortunately for us (after having difficulty with the pronunciation), they wanted to use American names of their choice – so they became Jackie and Jason for their visit.
Having the two boys was great, as they could help each other with language translation and they never felt alone. We quickly learned that they were typical teenagers – they loved electronics (Jason bought an Apple laptop on his first evening), enjoyed surfing the web (Jackie until the early morning hours), and loved chatting with their friends. Maybe not as typical was their interest in United States history – including questions as to why NYC is referred to as the “Big Apple” or why the Liberty Bell is cracked and not fixed.
Jason and Jackie were open to a variety of different experiences. We introduced them to baseball – as we said, it was a huge part of American culture. They enjoyed watching our nephew’s state baseball tournament, having the opportunity to see a couple games. For them, it wasn’t just about the sport – it was seeing the family involvement and the concessions - more specifically, the red, white and blue popsicles – (again, a huge part of American culture). In particular, Jackie was rather concerned when his mouth turned blue, but was quickly reassured that it would be gone soon (after only a bit of good-hearted teasing). This was an example of what we took for granted, realizing that these were opportunities for teaching, as well as learning.
Other highlights of their stay included a visit to the Mall of America (in particular the Nike store and any sports store selling NBA jerseys), horseback riding with other students and parents, bowling, trips to Target (another Minnesota tradition), a few trips to Dairy Queen, and a visit “Up North” to fish, swim, and experience the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Additionally, they spent time with my brother’s family, so they had the chance to have two host families, not just one. Time with the Kuhn family included playing pool, Yahtzee, and Texas Hold’em. Of course, they also fondly referred to the niece as “Crazy Amanda,” when they discovered she ate an entire container of ice cream!
Perhaps the most interesting (and exhausting) evening was hosting a dinner for three other host families and students. The night before the big dinner was spent at an Asian market for ingredients, followed by the quintessential American experience – McDonald’s. The food prep started at about 5 p.m. for the dinner, with the students prepping, chopping, frying, etc., in preparation for the dinner consisting of at least 6 (we lost count) different menu items – ranging from spicy noodles to tofu soup to seaweed soup. It was nice to see the students working together to prepare the food and proudly serve their cuisine. For them, it was their opportunity to share their culture with us.
Looking back on the experience, we are grateful that we volunteered for this opportunity, as we now have two more friends across the globe. We’ve stayed in touch through e-mail and hope to stay connected as they complete school and attend college. Who knows, maybe they’ll become “Golden Gophers” and we’ll have even more opportunity to connect!