La Sierra hosts Chinese youngsters on U.S. cultural tour

Li Si Jing, whose American name is Lily accompanied her son, Run Zi Mu, or Simba, age 10, on the month-long 2012 American Culture Summer Camp Program that included a week at La Sierra University.
Li Si Jing, whose American name is Lily accompanied her son, Run Zi Mu, or Simba, age 10, on the month-long 2012 American Culture Summer Camp Program that included a week at La Sierra University.

Sep. 30, 2012

By Darla Martin Tucker


RIVERSIDE, Calif. – ( Throw the heavy ball down the lane and try to knock over the tall, white pins—one of America’s best-loved sports and pastimes was a new experience for Chinese student Ma Chaoran who attended English classes at La Sierra University this summer.

“[What] really impresses me most is go bowling,” he wrote on a survey form. He also liked footprint cast making and fingerprint analysis at La Sierra’s CSI Camp, going to the beach, learning English and the experience of living with his American hosts. “I love my American family,” commented the student who adopted the American name of James. “We had great fun! And I loved English.”

James was among 146 Chinese students aged 10-17 who arrived at La Sierra University along with 11 chaperones between July 18 and August 15. The students came in small groups for week-long stays as part of a whirlwind 2012 American Culture Summer Camp Program that included stops in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, and San Diego. Biztour, a division of All Americas Inc. in Los Angeles coordinated the educational exchange and worked with La Sierra University through its English Language and American Culture Program to bring the students to the area.

The students stayed with 23 Seventh-day Adventist families while participating in activities at La Sierra that included learning English vocabulary through music, film, drama, American etiquette and customs, and tennis lessons. They also received an overview of a detective’s work by attending CSI Camp at the university’s Criminal Justice Campus.

It was the first time the English Language program has hosted students of this age group, said Dr. Nancy Dittemore, Division of Continuing Studies and American Culture Program director. “This was a very successful venture for these students,” she said. “We designed the program specifically for these young international students who wanted to make new friends, share in the fun of learning English, and discover the excitement of CSI fingerprinting, forensics, and real detective work.”

Chinese youngsters at La Sierra University's Crimina Justice Campus participating in CSI Camp in August. They took pictures of various camp activities such as blood spatter analysis techniques.The English and American culture program will begin working with Biztour in January to plan next summer’s La Sierra experience for students, Dittemore said. “We are hopeful that the number of visiting students may double.”

“It’s wonderful, it’s amazing, and it’s hot,” said Li Si Jing, whose American name is Lily. She accompanied her son, Run Zi Mu, or “Simba,” age 10, on the U.S. tour. “It’s a good chance for him,” Lily said. It was their first visit to the United States. Mother and son were adjusting to 100-plus degree temperatures in Southern California the first week of August, a dramatic change from the cool, mountainous region of their home in the city of Gui Yang, China where Lily teaches business at Gui Zhou Commercial College. In total, they and their group spent 25 days in America and two days in flight. Their trip included a stay at the Greenkill Outdoor Education Center in New York where the students studied water and forest ecology.

In New York City they visited Times Square, the famed 5th Avenue and other attractions. Of the entire trip, Lily most enjoyed viewing the Statue of Liberty on New York’s Staten Island, a beacon of freedom and acceptance that she had seen pictures of as a child. “[It] is a dream to me, I always want to see,” she said. The tour of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall also left an impression on the visitors. “All men are created equal. We saw those words,” recalled Lily.

Lily and her husband agreed their son should join the travel tour in part to better his English language skills. Chinese schools teach the language, but opportunities to learn and speak conversational English are lacking, Lily said. “This is a very important reason to bring Simba with me,” she said. “The real English is to communicate.”

When asked what impressed her most about American life, Lily responded, “freedom. Freedom is the key word for the American culture.”

Simba swings at tennis balls during lessons at La Sierra University. He and 146 other Chinese youngsters studied English vocabulary, took tennis lessons and other activities.Simba said his favorite stop, in addition to the Statue of Liberty, was Disneyland in Anaheim, a weekend venture taken during his group’s stay at La Sierra. The students also had opportunity to spend some weekend and evening time with their American hosts, or ‘homestay’ families. Some went to the beach with their hosts, James and others went bowling, shopping, played in parks, played video games with their hosts’ children and ate varieties of foods.

David and Vicki Murray, members of the Corona Seventh-day Adventist Church, hosted two teenage boys each week of the four-week tour. Vicki Murray is administrative assistant for La Sierra University’s Enrollment Services Vice President David Lofthouse.

The students arrived with a range of English-speaking skills, with a sense of humor and love of family, Murray said. “They are amazing kids,” she said.

The Murrays took the boys shopping and to the beach. Their pool table and their Australian cattle dog, Jana, were a hit with the youngsters, Murray said. In giving thanks to their American hosts, the students presented the Murrays with gifts including a vase made of woven wood material made by a grandmother of one student, and a scroll bearing a painting of a waterfall.

Their Chinese guests have since communicated by email with the Murrays expressing their love of the United States and for the Murrays’ home, commented Vicki. “Thank God for this homestay experience and ESL program,” she said.

Dante and Patricia Marruffo, respective youth and children’s pastors at Azure Hills and Loma Linda University churches, provided a home for two teenage girls for a week, and for four, 10 and 11-year-old girls another week. They and their son and daughter took their Chinese guests bowling and cooked family meals. The students were “just in shock” to discover the prevalence and free access of YouTube and other social media, the Marruffos said.

“When they first arrived we prepared a meal. We all sat at the table trying to make conversation and asked about their families,” Patricia Marruffo said. The students’ parents hold such occupations as factory worker, teacher, and police officer. “I thought, ‘wow, what a sacrifice to send their children here,’” Marruffo said.

Communication between Chinese and English languages proved a challenge. “At some point it was comical,” said Dante Marruffo. Since most of the youngsters arrived with smart phones all parties resorted to a translation app when hand signals failed to get the message across.

“We wanted to make it fun and let them have a taste of what our own family is like,” Patricia Marruffo commented. “It was a good experience for our family. If we had the opportunity we would do it again.”

Vinh Nguyen, pastor of the El Monte Vietnamese Seventh-day Adventist Church hosted a total of 10 students over two consecutive weeks. They took the Chinese youth to a park to play, cooked waffles and other American foods. The students used a Google translation app on their iPhones to understand conversation, Nguyen said, and interacted with Nguyen’s four children. “It was a blessing for my family,” he said. “My kids were able to have fun with them.”

Gabriela Lopez, who lives with her mother, Maria Cano, and sister, Laura, attends the La Sierra Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Riverside. They hosted four, 16-year-old girls for one week and two younger girls another week.

The Chinese youngsters were treated to a pool party and homemade chili rellenos, corn tortillas with salsa--“a hit” with the students, Lopez said--and other dishes courtesy of Gabriela’s mother who the students called ‘mama.’ “They are very polite, respectful to their elders, and very grateful,” Lopez said. While the students aimed to better their English language skills, Lopez learned a few phrases in Chinese like ‘how are you?’ she said.

As with all homestay families, the students gave the Lopez family gifts in thanks for the families’ hospitality. The Lopez’s gifts included a small, engraved bowl for drinking green tea.

During their stay at La Sierra, some of the Chinese students filled out surveys describing their experiences.

“I love my homestay family!” wrote He Chenrui. “There are two boys in our host family. I like to play with them because they are warmhearted. Sometimes they are naughty, but they are also very cute! And our mom and dad are very helpful. I don’t want to leave. I love them so much!”

“I think it’s a beautiful and big university,” wrote Liao Yujia. “In the wonderful environment, I think I will study better. So I want to go to this college.”

“I loved CSI very much! It was exciting,” James commented about his experience in La Sierra’s CSI Camp for learning crime scene investigation skills. “Teacher taught us to do footprints, fingerprint, from which I learned a lot of knowledge. We had great fun! And I love English.”

“I love Mrs. Beach,” wrote Hu Jinghan. “She is a funny teacher. I can learn many things from classes such as fruits, foods, clothes, and many common words. I love the classes.”

Said Teng Mingyang, “I like my American parents. They make delicious food for us and give us ice cream and special drink. I love them.”

“Gabriela [is] my “big sister,” wrote a student named Ke Xin who stayed with Gabriela Lopez and her family. “We went to swimming pool, go shopping. I love my homestay family.”

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