For the lucky students at KO, new year’s festivities came twice this year. To celebrate the lunar new year -- the year of the pig -- beginning Tuesday, February 5, the students who are studying the Chinese language held an assembly to celebrate the holiday, spoke in Chinese, taught the group some Chinese phrases, and gave a background of the holiday. Even Sage Dining prepared a surprise sumptuous Chinese banquet of sesame noodles, shrimp fried rice, pork and vegetable stir fry, fortune cookies and lots of fresh clementines for a traditional garnish.
In Naogon Ma’s Upper School Chinese classes, students celebrated on Friday with the students bringing in savory foods including dumplings, noodles for longevity, fried rice and cupcakes dolloped with red frosting as a nod to the traditional Chinese color for good luck. (According to legend, the monster, Nian, would terrorize the people on New Year’s Eve, and one brave boy fought him off using firecrackers and the color red.) The students donned the halls of the school with Chinese lanterns, Chinese symbols for good luck and good health, and dragons. Ma admitted that the festivities were slightly chaotic which added the spice of authenticity to the day. “When the holidays come, either here in America or in China, there is always chaos. But, that’s okay,” she explained. “That is the spirit of the holiday. No one needs to apologize. Everybody just has a good time and has an opportunity to share another culture and heritage.”
Ma believes in the importance of threading communication, comparison and community in her project-based language classes. The students talk to one another about the Chinese culture and compare how the western and eastern holidays evince the same feelings of family and happiness. Remarkably, the KO community shares several things in common with the Chinese culture as the color red and the dragon/wyvern are significant features of the cultural identity of both groups.
As the coordinator of KO ’s international students, Ma is sensitive to their longing to be with their families at this time, and that, hopefully, the Chinese New Year celebrations on campus will help brighten their day. “I understand their feelings. There is overwhelming homesickness. When they see the red lanterns throughout campus, they see that people care. By trying to learn some Chinese phrases, we are saying “We honor you. We are your family here. Your community is our community,” she said.
KO staff feted the international students on Sunday night at Great Taste in New Britain. The students shared with one another how they normally celebrate the new year- some eat hot pot, others travel. Some make dumplings with their family. Head of School Tom Dillow handed each student a vibrant red envelope (hong bao) to mark a tradition where the elders give a monetary gift to the younger generation. Ma explained that in China, these gifts account for a child’s allowance for the year and serve as an incentive to do well in school or to behave well. She said that there was always friendly competition among children to see who could collect the most money. In Dillow’s case, he presented the international students the red envelopes filled with a gift card from The Green Teahouse in Blue Back Square as the international students enjoy the shop’s bubble teas.
At the assembly, the AP Chinese language students announced the launch of the first-ever Chinese language newsletter Dragon Scrolls, slated to be released today, in April and in May. They are inviting all learners of the language or Chinese students to submit articles, recipes or any writing that piques their interest. The publication is written in Chinese characters with a translation in English. The articles in the latest issue range from Hockey Night to Model U.N to restaurant reviews.“I want to showcase the student's ability. You might not know of the soccer player at school who also is working hard on a language that’s very difficult,” Ma said. “My desire is to create an authentic language experience and have students step outside of their comfort zone. There’s no perfect textbook. This newsletter allows students who want to move faster in the language to do so.”
And, since the Lunar New Year celebrations are a fifteen-day affair, the events on the KO campus will not just end on Tuesday. Head of School Tom Dillow announced at the assembly that any student who wears red on Wednesday has a dress down day. To up the ante, he said that a student who approaches him on campus and says “Happy New Year” in Chinese will receive a hong bao filled with a surprise.
To all our Wyverns who are vying for that hong bao: Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese).