International students celebrate Spring Festival in their own way in Shanghai

As the Year of the Rat approaches, millions of Chinese people leave for their distant homes to reunite with their loved ones and celebrate the Spring Festival. Some young foreign expats, especially college students, take the opportunity to stay in China, intending to experience Chinese culture through this festival at close range.

Baek Seohui, a junior student learning commercial Chinese in East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai, told the Global Times that people in South Korea celebrate their New Year’s Day on the same day Chinese do.

Reunion and communication

“We wear traditional costumes and eat niangao [a special treat made of glutinous rice flour] soup to celebrate our New Year’s Day,” she noted. “During China’s Spring Festival, all things are in red. I felt strange the first time I saw it. But now, I feel a sense of happiness when I see red.”

Baek goes back to South Korea every year to celebrate New Year’s Day. This is the first year she is celebrating in China. On Thursday night, ECNU hosted around 200 international students from 40 countries and regions with Chinese cuisine and interactive games.

“It [the party] is an opportunity to make friends, just as important as reunion with old friends,” Canadian national Ian Heystee, an exchange student at ECNU, told the Global Times.

“Zodiac years are a big deal here in China and I’ve been asked often what my animal year is,” he said.

Indonesian students in Shanghai University of Sport (SUS) tried a small-scale Chinese style gala held on their campus on Thursday, January 16, which featured singing, a Chinese calligraphy event with their teachers, singing together, a violin performance and even a Wushu performance.

Rahmadani Eka Anjar, together with nine of her Indonesian companions, presented their own performance by singing “Sing Sing So” in both Indonesian and Chinese languages. It is an Indonesian folk song also famous in China.

Eka is excited for the upcoming festival. “I think for Chinese people, Spring Festival is quite a big day. We really want to know what it is,” she said, noting that she and her classmates will go around Shanghai to see how people celebrate the festival. “If there is any chance, we also want to join them,” she said.

Music has no boundaries. When waiting for their turn at the back stage, an Indonesian student playing the guitar and a Chinese student playing the violin came together to sing English and Chinese lyrics, with the others humming to the beats in unison.

“The music creates sparks by which Chinese and foreign students naturally resonate, communicate and integrate with each other,” said Niu Tingting, an SUS teacher in charge of international students’ affairs.

She hopes such activities could let them know more about Chinese culture and also bring them a sense of belonging.

Finally belonging

Shanghai’s night view along the Huangpu River is iconic enough to attract both frequent and new visitors. Despite cold winter temperatures, the international students of Shanghai International Studies University(SISU) were awestruck by the view from a cruise along the river on January 14.

While sailing to the Lujiazui area, the crowd on board burst into “wows”“Shanghai is so beautiful,” Pakistani student Ume Habiba said excitedly.

This is her second year spending the Spring Festival in China. “We are going to Harbin in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, where my Chinese friends will welcome us to their home and [we will] join some traditional activities and eat local food like dumplings,” she said.

“During Spring Festival, China looks so beautiful everywhere,” Habiba said. “I love being in China. We feel like [we are] at home because Chinese people are so helping and supportive.”

Italian Chinese Liu Xin, a 23-year-old SISU graduate student, plans to visit her grandmother who is still living in China.

“I am looking forward to seeing how people celebrate the festival here,” Liu said, explaining that this is her first time spending the festival in China, where her parents were born.

“Italian Chinese living in Milan value Spring Festival a lot,” Liu said. The local Chinese organize lion dancing while people teach Italian friends to make dumplings and understand Chinese traditions, Liu noted.

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