Lessons from China

by Sam Silverman ’14

One component of the ACC program is that every student is assigned a host family. While we do not live with our families, we meet up about every other weekend to have lunch, chat, and do fun activities together. The host family is really a chance for students to practice Chinese and to learn about what an “average” person’s life is like in China. I put average in quotes, because all of the host families are relatively well off and have very western-friendly attitudes.

Originally, I was not very keen to the idea of having a host family. I am a little shy, and the idea of going over to someone’s house and them focusing all their attention on me is NOT something I was excited about. Yet, after meeting with my family this past weekend, I really have started to enjoy the host family component of ACC and am very excited to meet with them again soon.

Here’s what happened:

My “dad” collected me, and the other ACC student I’m paired with, at the school gate. At first it was definitely a little weird for me but after about a minute of silence, he started asking questions. It was just small talk but it was not awkward in any way. That, and the faux fur seat covering in their car, definitely put me at ease.

Once we were outside their apartment building, my “little sister” ran outside to greet me and had the biggest smile on her face as we walked inside together.

Side note: my ‘little sister’ is literally the cutest little girl in the entire world. She’s ten.

So we go inside to see my “mom” and “aunt” preparing lunch. The last time we met, my “mom” said that she could make me literally anything to eat. She wasn’t exaggerating. As a fun little activity, we all wrapped the dumplings together, which, it turns out, I am very good at. After wrapping up about 40 dumplings we sat down for lunch. There were about 7 dishes on the table aside from the dumplings, and they were all delicious. I’m completely stuffing my face, and my “mom” won’t let me stop eating. Any time I put down my chopsticks to talk, she would say, “talk and eat, talk and eat”. And then she would but more beef and cabbage on my plate. After stuffing myself to the point that it was uncomfortable, we all stopped eating and rested a little.

Also, to go off of my last post, my “mom” could not believe how good my Chinese had gotten since the first time we met. The first time that we met, the language barrier was definitely a factor but this time I was pretty much fine. She kept saying to my “little sister,” “See how good ‘big brother’s Chinese has gotten? That’s because he studies hard.”

After lunch, we go and sit down in their living room after lunch and start drinking tea heavily. After my “dad” poured out the tea, my “mom” calls my “little sister” in to give out presents.

So, my “sister” walks in with this:

This is a Chinese landscape paining.

I was so floored. I literally did not know how to voice (in Chinese) how grateful I was. Then, after being overwhelmed at the fact I was given such an incredible gift, my “sister” said this, “My Grandma painted this.”

At that point, I literally did not know way to say.

To rewind a little, me and the other ACC student showed up to their house with fresh fruit as a present. A basket of fruit. My host parents decided to take it upon themselves to teach us how to give a proper gift in China. After regaining composure, my “parents” and I continued to talk for a few more hours, until they took me home.

It was definitely a great Saturday afternoon, and I can’t wait to get another call form my new “family” soon.


by Sam Silverman ’14

First let me introduce myself. My name is Sam Silverman, and I am studying with Hamilton’s ACC (Associated Colleges in China) program. I love China, long walks on the beach, breathing smog, and haggling in Chinese so I can save myself about ¢35.

Today I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts. Today is my one-month anniversary of living in Beijing. No English, no Facebook, no problem. I have absolutely loved every moment and my Chinese has gotten a lot better. In only the first month, ordering food has become second nature; I can tell if a taxi driver is just driving around aimlessly trying to jack up the price; and, maybe most importantly, I can haggle like the best of them.

Top five reasons I know my Chinese is better:

  1. Ordering in restaurants is no problem at all. In China, when a waiter hands you a menu, they also expect you to order within the next 30 seconds. The first few weeks it would take 15 minutes to just figure out that my food had beef in it. Now, I’m telling them that I want it medium rare.
  2. I’m literally a subway master. This isn’t so much about Chinese as it is my general knowledge of Beijing. In Beijing, the subway is 2 kuai, which converts to about ¢25. It is super easy and convenient, and you can literally go anywhere in the city. The first few weeks I was struggling. Hard. Now I would rather ride the subway for an hour across town than shell out for a taxi.
  3. I see heads turn when I walk by. While I am devilishly handsome, what Chinese people can’t get over is my Chinese. If it’s on the subway, bus or walking around the markets, whenever fellow ACC students and I speak Chinese, I see jaws drop and just looks of shock on people faces. Before, they would laugh at us struggling through a conversation but now, people just look at us with than expression of, “Oh s***, they are learning our language now, and they are good.”
  4.  Certain Chinese words are becoming part of my English vocabulary. When I talk to my parents on Skype, there have been multiple time when I have said dui (correct) in stead of “okay” or said hao (good) instead of “sounds good”. I’ve realized that when I am not reading or writing in English (which is pretty much all the time), that I am thinking in Chinese.
  5. People no longer think that I am American. In China, if your Chinese is not very good or if you just seem like an obnoxious tourist, people will think that you are American. In the past two weeks, people keep guessing England or France, which shows that I seem pretty normal and that my Chinese is fluent. Aside from this compliment, when people think your are American, prices go up by about 20%. Now that I am a poor Englishman, prices start off pretty low and I’m able to bargain them down even further to get the biggest bang for my buck.