My first home-stay family experience definitely showed me the differences between American culture and Chinese culture. We were advised that the first impression in Chinese culture is very important because I was not only a foreigner in their country, but also in their house. As a result, I had to make sure to make a good impression as soon as I walked in. I asked for advice to my professors, and they mentioned that is a tradition to bring gifts. The moment when I asked what kind of gifts would be suitable for me to bring to my home-stay family, they mentioned to bring gifts that were a little bit personal so that they could get to know me better. I decided to bring them some souvenirs from my hometown and I was successful, because I was able to explain what the gift meant for me. In a way I think it was a smart choice, because now they can keep something to remember me from.
Prior to going to this house I was able to meet with one member of the family of my home-stay family. This young lady was my age and also went to college; we bonded quickly which made my experience even better. Once in her house, she introduced me to most of her family members. One thing that I learned in China was that most families live really close to each other. For instance, my friend lived in an apartment and her aunt lived in the building across the street, while her grandparents lived just a few streets from her apartment. This threw me off because we were just a walking distance from almost all her family members. I think I found it strange because I cannot relate to that. On Sunday we went to her grandparent’s house, as soon as I walked in I remembered to hand out the gifts that I had brought. They were very happy for that gesture and wanted to include me in their activities. Her grandfather was a bit shy, at first he was sitting away from all of us just observing us. I found this odd, later on I found out that it was because he had never seen a foreigner before. After that he decided to join us, he was wearing his soldier coat.
I figured he used to be a soldier. and he is very proud of that because he is still wearing the coat until now. I asked him if he was a soldier in Chinese. He was blown away. He could not believe that I knew he was a soldier and that I was able to ask him that question in Chinese. His face was like if I were to see pigs flying; he was astonished. Right after that he sprinted to the kitchen and made me dinner. At that point, I did not know he was actually cooking only so I could eat. I misinterpreted this. I thought I said something wrong so he decided to leave. We ate dinner together and we chatted for a while.
Although my Chinese is limited he tried his best to communicate with me. When I wanted to switch to English he kept on encouraging me to speak Chinese, and that it was okay if I was not fluent. He was very patient, which I appreciate because I got to practice my Chinese with him. At one point we had to leave so I said bye to everyone, but her grandfather wanted to keep chatting with me, which was really sweet. That moment really motivated me to keep learning this language, so one day I can come back and talk with him more fluently.