A Passion for Culture

As I ride my bicycle past another corn field I explore my surroundings, wondering how I have waited so long to have this sublime experience. To my right is a water buffalo resting and bathing in a muddy puddle; this once foreign scene is now just an everyday occurrence since my arrival in China. As I travel with my companions, we see a promising road and follow its path; we dismount from our bikes and are immediately surrounded by children. They are speaking to us with such joyful countenances that the language barrier does not hinder us from perceiving the universal language of happiness. Beckoning to our translator, we sit down with an elderly woman. She seems cautious at first but quickly opens up, telling us about the death of her husband and the toil that her son has had to endure in the field.

We thank her for her hospitality and as we stand to leave, we are surrounded by the villagers as they give us a parting gift: fruit from their trees. We know how important the fruit is for their well-being, and we bid them all a tearful farewell. Following Christine, my translator from Hong Kong, I notice a sign marked with the symbols “xiao xue” and know that my much anticipated dream is about to become a reality as we enter the elementary school. My yearlong study of Mandarin Chinese has not proven to be much help yet since the elderly that we have encountered speak the Cantonese dialect, but I know that this school is my chance to communicate and connect with a younger generation. My group enters a classroom and the children’s gaze is fixed upon me. The extra attention is not a surprise; I have been singled out from my group of Americans for enough pictures to know that they were fascinated by my African-American background and even more intrigued with my hair extensions.

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I am making my way to the blackboard and I write that we are Americans who have come to be their friends. The children jump from their seats, notebooks in hand, and ask for our autographs. After many brief conversations with several children, using what little Mandarin I had learned, I experienced a paradigm shift. The trip opened my eyes significantly to the importance of learning about and experiencing other cultures. No longer will I settle for a life of cultural-centrism when there is an entire world that is full of such a plethora of new and amazing experiences just waiting for exploration.