Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program students in Beijing not only improve their Chinese language skills; they also gain a deeper understanding of Chinese culture through participation in structured cultural activities and by living with host families throughout the eight-week program.
CLS Beijing students often develop close bonds with their host families and learn nuances of Chinese culture. In turn, their Chinese host families learn more about the United States, particularly its diversity. The host family experience allows for the deepening of mutual understanding between the United States and China.
“There is no question, neither in my mind nor in anyone else’s, that my host family made my stay in China a more pleasurable experience,” said Thomas Young (CLS Beijing ’11). “They were some of the most kind-hearted, hospitable, and thoughtful people I have ever met.”
|Myles with his host brother|
“My host family was amazing,” said Myles Postell-Reynolds (CLS Beijing ’11). “Whenever a friend came to town or a special occasion came up, they insisted I celebrate with them. It usually involved a very fancy dinner. They also took me to the pool every week and helped me organize a trip to Chengdu to see their parents. I was extremely impressed by their dedication to keeping me comfortable.”
Thomas and Myles’ host families developed close relationships to the students. Each host family was impressed with the student’s enthusiasm for learning and ability to integrate into the family in a short time.
“We took Thomas as our own grandson,” said his host grandparents, who lived with the family during the summer. “He always talked to us in Chinese, and even when he talked to his friends, he also used Chinese.”
Mealtimes in particular were an opportunity for the family and students to spend time together and learn about each other's culture.
“Many of our conversations took place over breakfast or dinner. They taught me what everything we ate was called and frequently quizzed me on what they taught. Soon, these mealtime study sessions expanded from food to Tang poetry, current events in China, and America, politics, geography, and countless other topics,” Thomas said. “Not only did I improve my Chinese through these conversations, but I also got a taste of Chinese culture and a view of the world through Chinese eyes.”
In turn, the host families learned about American culture and began to think about some Chinese customs in different ways.
“When we have meals, we Chinese always try to persuade our guests to have more food, as a way to show our hospitality,” said Myle’s host mom. “At the beginning, we didn’t notice that we were doing this. We tried to persuade Myles to eat more food and said, ‘This, this, and this are all yours.’ Myles was surprised and said, ‘Oh, no, no.’ Then we realized that he took our words seriously. We stopped trying to persuade him to eat more, and Myles learned this was a Chinese custom. After this, sometimes he would say, ‘This, this, and this are all yours’ jokingly to us.”
After completing the CLS Program in Beijing, Thomas and Myles returned to their home institutions in the United States. Thomas is studying biochemistry at the University of Florida, and Myles is studying international relations at Morehouse College in Georgia. Both plan to continue studying Chinese and hope to use it in their future careers.