In Chinese culture celebrating the New Year (or Spring Festival) is a time for friends and family to come together, add festive decorations to homes and cities, enjoy traditional foods or sweets, and wish each other good health and good fortune. Sounds a lot like some of our favorite American traditions, right?
Americans recognize holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day as significant events in our family’s lives. We make arrangements for traveling to see family, organize parties with friends, and if we can’t make a trip to see those we love, we make sure we’ve sent a card or a gift to show we are thinking of them.
With the Chinese New Year approaching, we reached out to our International students from China to get their perspective on celebrating this holiday at Canterbury. We were aware that our Director of International Studies, Mrs. Donovan had a lion dance scheduled for assembly and that our native Chinese Mandarin teacher, Mrs. Fiola, planned to bring her students to the lower school for an engaging presentation. We weren’t prepared to hear how homesick they were knowing their families were all celebrating half a world away without them.
It didn’t take much convincing our Canterbury community to mobilize our resources and put a plan into action to help our international studies students feel more at home. The week started with a brightly-colored lion dance on each campus. This celebratory tradition symbolizes good luck in Chinese culture. It is believed that the longer the lion, the more luck it will bring the community.
On Tuesday, our upper school students who take Mandarin visited the lower school and entertained the crowd with a Chinese song sung by fifth grade Mandarin students and a Gong fu demonstration by Kai Tomalin (‘19). The rest of the morning was spent visiting classrooms to read books about Chinese culture and making Chinese New Year crafts with lower school students. When the upper school students returned to their campus, Mrs. Fiola treated them with homemade dumplings and sweets for good luck as they decorated the lunch room in a red and gold Chinese New Year theme.
On Thursday, Mrs. Fiola’s students made cheerful spring signs in Mandarin characters to hang on the lockers of our Chinese exchange students to further acknowledge the importance of this holiday to them individually. Next week, she will host a traditional Chinese food feast for her students taking Mandarin and has invited our international students to join them.
We know that being a culturally diverse school serves our whole community well. These students aren’t just here to learn about American culture and traditions. They serve as unknowing ambassadors of their own culture. They bring a worldview that is critical to expanding our way of thinking and necessary for helping all students become global thinkers and culturally sensitive humans. We give back to them when we embrace their heritage and show them that they can be Chinese in America and at Canterbury, and we are all better for it.
Cultural lessons have more significance when they aren’t just a lesson and activity but are acts of compassion within our community. We all benefit by recognizing and celebrating the diversity of each student in our school.
Thank you to Mrs. Gina Donovan, Mrs. Mandy Fiola, Ms. Jessica Church, and all of our faculty and staff for their everyday efforts to celebrate diversity in our Canterbury community.