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Homestay Reflections – Bangdong

After leaving Bangdong village and transitioning into urban life in Kunming, Bridge Year China participants reflected on their two-week rural homestay experience through writing prompts. We shared these reflections gallery-style upon arrival in Kunming. Here are some highlights from the student reflections, shared anonymously.

During this homestay, I felt like I learned the most from…

  • My shushu (uncle). A lot of the vocabulary terms I learned after trying to speak to him.
  • Being in the kitchen with my ayi (aunt).
  • Just watching my family, especially with the language barrier, the easiest way to get a sense of who my family was and how they operated was to watch them go through their everyday routine.
  • The moments when I put in a lot of effort to communicate. Communicating could be very frustrating at times, but when I pushed for it, I learned a lot about the other person and our relationship was strengthened.
  • Talking with an observing my ayi (aunt). We talked about a lot of different things—like her kids, dancing, cooking, picking tea. I feel like I learned at least a little about what’s important to her and the important aspects of her life.
  • Adventures with Yang San (homestay brother). More than in any way I can learn from a textbook, I was able to pick up on lots of new terminology simply because of the memories and/or funny moments attached to encountering the new words.
  • Talking with my ayi (aunt), especially in the tea fields that one day and in the evenings. It was mostly questions about her family/tea, which I learned many facts about. Through learning about her family, I also learned a lot about the tea process and how hard work it is (over 12 hours a day) by shadowing.
  • Spending time with my homestay family. They are so knowledgeable about tea culture and I learned a lot by drinking, picking, and processing tea with them. I also learned a lot about rural life, past times & education from daily conversation.

Something my host family has that I don’t have is…

  • A lot of endurance. Most, if not all, of my host family goes to work all day, including my mei-mei (little sister) and they’re all very good and comfortable with what they do.
  • Connection to the land around them, agricultural knowledge/skillset, a house with an open door (literally and metaphorically), a family-like village community, tea processing machinery
  • A strong connection to their land.
  • A much stronger relationship with/dependency on the land and thus self-sufficiency for food. More communal spaces in the house (and more time spent there). The communal spaces were typically outdoors, I guess kind of related to a stronger relationship with the land (perhaps). Closer relationships/much more interactions with neighbors and the community (I’ve never spoken with any of my neighbors, but that might just be me). Extensive knowledge about tea and cooking.
  • A deep understanding of the origins of their food and all the ways in which to cook the local produce. Very intricate ties with the people who live in their community.
  • Squat toilet, tea fields, peanut field, corn/pepper drying area.
  • A set routine and comfortable/stable career. I think the routine they followed allowed for lots of family time and individual time. I think they also had a decent job that for now is very stable.
  • A very thorough knowledge of their land. They easily navigate to different tea fields, some a 10-15 minute distance from town. At home, I’d get lost walking through without any road signs or indicators. My family here remembers every road/pathway.

I noticed my privilege most acutely when…

  • When I was in the chadi (tea fields) with my ayi (aunt) and I just sat there while she zipped around picking tea leaves. I was very aware of my inability to help due to lack of skills or training and how I didn’t have those abilities because I had never needed them before.
  • For the first time in my life, I thought about where my trash ends up.
  • When I first arrived at my homestay, my yeye (grandpa) took me to a bedroom where he said I would stay for the duration. Compared to what I was used to, the room was filthy. Fortunately—in a way—I got moved to another room without asking. But I really had to think about how lucky I was to get to live in the conditions that I do back home.
  • I was talking to my homestay family about the prices of items in the US and the places I’ve traveled to.
  • I was in the fields picking tea with my ayi (aunt) and the worker ayis. The first wo hours or so were fun and exciting—it was a novel experience! But then it started getting quite tiring and boring. As the day progressed, I started taking some sitting breaks, which the ayis don’t have as much flexibility to do. Unlike for me, how much the ayis work directly affects their livelihoods. I started thinking about my privilege both in my Princeton life, where I can hope for a future where I can do what I want and not find it boring/repetitive, and also as a traveler right in that moment, being able to dip in and experience a bit of their lives without having to deal with their hardships (or being able to take sitting breaks when I wanted). The feeling of the “novelty wearing off” also made me reflect on all of our privilege this first month, being able to dip into very hospitable people’s lives and have “cool experiences” but leave soon after, never really fully understanding what their experiences are like, which is not super possible in this timeframe.
  • Taking showers…my ayi (aunt) showered like once during the two weeks, my shushu (uncle) not at all. I took a shower around every other day. I think my use of water—somewhat excessively, comparatively—hints at my and Americans’ disconnection from the water/resources they use.
  • I ate foods and snacked. It reminded me of how lucky I’ve been to always be relatively well-fed. It’s something that I’ve looked over in the past.
  • I left the fields every day at noon to go to lunch, then class. I have the privilege of deciding what to do with my time, which is possible because I don’t have to worry about making a wage every day. While my sister and homestay father were out all day in the tea fields, I could lunch, read, journal, go to class.

My perspective on service was challenged when…

  • I realized that this family was living a comfortable life and I eventually felt like an extra burden instead of extra helping hand. It was me realizing that it was my turn to learn from them.
  • We went to pick tea fruits with Biang’er. Before, I thought that service was doing good for a community, or for the larger global community. I never recognized that helping someone could be a service too. After picking fruits, I had a new perspective on my time in the tea fields with my family.
  • We picked up trash around the village. The group dialogue that followed this activity was very thought provoking and will make me think more carefully about what I call “service” in the future.
  • Our “service” ultimately resulted in our throwing trash off a mountain. Would the trash have done less harm if we left it on the streets? I’m not sure.
  • When I was “helping” pick tea leaves. I was constantly asked if I wanted to go back and have a rest. I soon came to the conclusion that my jiejie (big sister) might have wanted me to go back because I was getting in the way more than I was helping. Guess I can’t always help out even when I think I know what I’m doing.
  • We threw the trash we collected off a cliff.
  • We threw trash off a cliff. It felt very personal and emphasized one’s responsibility for the trash one creates. That week I saw various family members throw their trash out the window, which made me feel uncomfortable, but this experience highlighted that I was no different.
  • Thinking about who wanted the trash picking done, who was benefitting from us doing that, the implications of our actions if locals didn’t want it, the role of consent of locals in informing service we did.

Not having technology allowed me to…

  • Reflect more and think about my life as a whole. Who am I? What do I want? And why? are all questions I tried to think about when I went to bed. It also helped me read more.
  • Focus on spending time with my family. I had a lot of empty time in the evenings that if I had my phone, I probably would have passed it by googling random things/checking FaceBook. Instead, it felt a lot more natural to spend the time with various members of family or taking care of personal needs. It also allowed me to recognize how much the villagers rely on their own technology to pass time. My homestay brother was on technology the entire time he was home.
  • Remain more present. I felt more engaged with my surroundings. Technology can often function as a buffer and back home, my interaction shave suffered because both sides are preoccupied with their phones. However, technology did greatly enhance my homestay experience because I was able to communicate through translation apps about things outside my current language level.
  • Notice my surroundings & connect with my peers. If I had access to my phone for the whole month, I definitely wouldn’t have had such a positive experience.
  • Engage more totally with my surroundings and host family. Over the month, I realized how much time I waste everyday.
  • Obviously be more open to my host family, not boxed away on my phone. I asked more questions for the sake of engaging, and having those even meaningless conversations was still incredibly rewarding from a language and relationship point of view. I also spent more time thinking, probably, I probably also relied more on my own language skills than I would have if I had a translating app at my fingertips. I also had more free time, so I was more patient/took my time with things like laundry.
  • Primarily allowed me to disconnect from what I would consider to be “my world” and not only continue to connect with the bridge year cohort but build much stronger relationships with the people of Bangdong. Had I been in possession of my phone, I likely would have spent many nights cooped up in my room rather than interacting with my homestay family.
  • Be more present and focused on what we were doing. It prevented me from retreating when I felt uncomfortable.