While I was definitely excited, in the days leading up to traveling to my roommate’s home for Spring Festival some nerves began to build up. I was made aware of the fact that in Wenzhou the dialect is almost completely different from Mandarin and that I may have trouble communicating with people. On top of that it was going to be the longest I have ever spent with a host family, and being immersed in a culture unlike my own got me a little worried.
Fortunately, all my worries were quickly laid to rest by my roommate’s incredibly welcoming family. Immediately upon arriving I was sat down at a table and treated to a large meal with various family members, many of whom surprised me with their ability to speak Mandarin. This was a huge development as it gave me a way to communicate with them and learn even more about their culture. I found it especially interesting that while I was experiencing something for the first time, many of his family members were doing the same. Several of his aunts and uncles told me that I was the first foreigner that they had ever met and that they were grateful to meet me. This was evident in the way that I was treated the whole time I was there. I had previously learned about Chinese eating culture and I would have to say that it was all that it was made out to be. Anytime I didn’t have something in my bowl or between my chopsticks I would be reminded to eat more. While this was something I really enjoyed because I love to eat, I can’t say the week was particularly great for my physical health. I noticeably gained weight, but at the same time if I were to do it over again I would not even consider eating less than I did. The quantity of food was not the only thing that caught my eye. During our first meal someone noticed me trying to use my hands to peel a shrimp and insisted that that method was too troublesome and proceeded to show me that the whole process could be done in your mouth with your teeth. Along with this learning great new technique, I ate all sorts of things for the first time, some of which I still have no idea what they were.
Aside from the food, I really enjoyed surprising the people I met with my ability to communicate with them. At first everyone would ask my roommate to ask me question for them, but he fortunately had a little faith in my Chinese abilities and told them that they could ask me directly. While much of our discussions were about Western culture and my life in America,I had one very poignant discussion with my roommate’s father. I went for a long walk with my roommate, his father, and a few other relatives, but I ended up spending the whole time with his father. We had a serious conversation about my future, including my worries about finding a summer internship and a post college job. His advice surprised me a little bit, but actually made me feel better about the situation. He assured me that worrying was pretty useless and that at this point in my life I shouldn’t be thinking about making money but instead should be thinking about what makes me happy.
Overall, my time with my roommate’s family for Spring Festival was a really incredible experience, and what I gained in weight was more than made up for by the knowledge I gained about Chinese culture as well as my own life.