Ben Seklir 沈杰明
My homestay family in 临石（Linshi）, Chengdu had a profound impact on myself because by embracing me with open arms, they have allowed me to become more comfortable in China and in my Chinese speaking ability. Particularly, my auntie, or “Ayi阿姨” as we called her, in addition to Sam, a 3rd grader who lived with us, have made a very meaningful connection with me, far greater than I think they could imagine.
Prior to arriving in Linshi, a rural village about two hours away from Chengdu, I was incredibly nervous about my first homestay. I worried my language skills were nowhere near good enough, I would not like the food my family served, or one way or another, I would offend my homestay family. Basically, I thought I was in for a long few days.
Upon initially meeting 阿姨, my fears were not subdued. For one, 阿姨 did not seem particularly thrilled to meets us, and secondly, her Chinese accent was something that at first was hard to understand. I admit that I was timid to talk to her at first because I was embarrassed to say something incorrect. However, I broke out of my shell after being introduced to Sam.
Sam ran home from school with a huge smile on his face and did not seem to care that I, a stranger was in his house. He got straight to his homework and I sat next to him as he worked. As he worked, I gradually passed him some Sour Patches until a mound of the candy began to pile up. He finally looked up and subsequently broke into laughter. We began to talk a bit, and thus, the beginning of our friendship was born. Sam immediately made me feel comfortable around him with his constant laughter and overall happiness.
Later that night, my homestay family and I went to the public square. As I walked with Sam, I decided it would be a good idea to talk in Chinese with Sam. I began to ask him simple questions along the lines of “do you like or not like…” For example, I asked him “do you like playing baseball?” Instead, Sam had a different idea. Without responding to my questions, Sam turned the same questions on me. I answered the questions he asked to me, to which he in turn, he would repeatedly reply with the same answer. While this playful affair might not seem like an impactful event to most, looking back on it, I drew many conclusions. First, I believe that this conversation indicates that Sam vied to make a connection with me by emulating my answers. Additionally, I think this experience benefitted myself because I took risks with my Chinese speaking skills. For both of these conclusions, I am very thankful to Sam, and I believe that they would not have been possible if Sam had not been as accepting and playful as he was.
Although my relationship with 阿姨 got off to a slow start, it was able to quickly get better due to his hospitality and motherly warmth. I think that I bonded with 阿姨 mainly through mealtime, as we ate every meal for three days with her. Every meal of the day was absolutely delicious, and I made sure to frequently tell her that. Unlike in America, 阿姨 constantly would fill my bowl up with food while I was eating, telling me to “吃，吃，吃（eat, eat, eat）.” This was just of many instances that 阿姨 hospitality and countless acts of kindness was reflected. One lunch, as I sat at the table devouring my food, 阿姨 typed Chinese into her translator app on her phone. After 阿姨had entered the text, the phone read it aloud. With my face in a bowl of noodles I heard, “I love you guys, I want to treat you like I am your mother.” This was a moment that I will never forget. It made me realize that two people can live on opposite sides of the globe, speak two different languages, have two very different cultures, but ultimately, still develop a strong bond through love and kindness.
I strongly believe that Sam and 阿姨 not only helped me feel comfortable speaking Chinese, but also provided me with a source of friendship that I never thought I would have had. For this, I am forever thankful and feel incredibly proud to have been given the opportunity to come to Linshi.