ST. CHARLES – Two Elgin Community College exchange students from China – Xiaochen Wang and Rong Rong – said they’re looking forward to celebrating a uniquely American holiday this week.
Neither of them have ever celebrated Thanksgiving before. But on Thursday, they’ll feast on the traditional fare, along with a few Chinese dishes.
Rong, 21, and Wang, 20, both attend Shaanxi Normal University in China and will live with a host family in St. Charles through the end of the fall semester.
They’re participating in Elgin Community College’s Homestay program, which launched this year.
The program matches host families with full-time international exchange students to help both parties appreciate a different culture.
Rong said she’s looking forward to not only the Thanksgiving get-together but also shopping on Black Friday.
“I have a long list,” she said. “My friends want clothes, a computer, a camera.”
Wang said she knew little about Thanksgiving before coming to the United States. She said she thought the celebration was about gathering and showing thanks to your parents, but then learned it was based on a period of history.
Both women said Thanksgiving is comparable to China’s Moon Festival, an annual gathering during a full moon in September where families celebrate the fall harvest and eat “mooncakes.”
The students are staying with Elizabeth Reyes, who is the director of Elgin Community College’s Intensive English Program. Her family offered to be the first Homestay host.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only American tradition Wang and Rong will have experienced before they go home. They carved pumpkins for Halloween, and Rong celebrated her 21st birthday on Oct. 18. Reyes said she baked a cake and they sang “Happy Birthday.”
“We’ve had a great time,” Reyes said. “Both girls are so interested in learning whatever they can both academically and culturally.”
Reyes said Elgin Community College administrators are in the process of recruiting host families for its Homestay program and are looking to place American exchange students at Shaanxi Normal University in China.
Aside from celebrating new holidays, Rong said she’s noticed cultural differences in the classroom and in home life, as well.
She said Americans tend to focus on individualism, and parents here encourage their children rather than push them to make certain decisions.
Classes are a little less formal here, she said.
“Teachers give students more space to learn by themselves. ... Here, the classroom is very comfortable and easy,” she said. “In China, the classroom is more formal. Students raise hands, when you have permission, you stand up, ask a question and sit. It’s very formal.”