The Penn State Brandywine community was recently treated to an authentic Lunar New Year celebration. The campus rung in the Year of the Tiger with traditional Chinese cuisine, Chinese Dragon Dancers and a plethora of traditional activities from across Asia.
The Feb. 4 event was sponsored by the Office of Multilingual & International Student Programs, the Center for Ethics and Civic Engagement, and the Multicultural Club.
Yuxi Chen — known as CiCi by many on campus — and Haoyu Wang were the students behind the Friday evening program.
Wang, who was born in China but spent most of his life in Singapore, is a seasoned professional when it comes to Lunar New Year events, having planned many throughout his educational career.
“I've been quite involved in planning for celebrations like Chinese New Year,” Wang said, noting that when he got involved in the multicultural club he was introduced to Chen. “CiCi told me that there was going to be a Chinese New Year Celebration and I said, Oh, that’s my area of expertise!’”
Mentioning the fall semester’s Diwali festival, Chen noted that she’s seen a lot of people find interesting ways to share their culture on campus.
“I just love that because that’s part of why I came to the U.S. I think it’s a place where culture is mixed together, where people appreciate each other and share each other’s differences,” Chen said. “So that’s why I wanted to share something about my culture.
“I just want to create a space to let people see or learn something from the culture I’m so proud of,” she explained. “I love it and I really want to let more people get to know it.
“So I went to talk to Professor Ousey to ask her about hosting or planning an event to share something that I love about my culture and thank goodness she agreed immediately. I’m just so happy about that!” Chen said.
Debbie Lamb Ousey is the coordinator of multilingual student programs, co-coordinator of the multilingual student course cluster, advisor to the campus Multicultural Club, and campus liaison for Penn State’s Directorate of International Student and Scholar.
“I think it's a testament to how welcoming Brandywine can be,” Ousey said of Chen’s desire to share her culture with the wider campus community. “That students feel comfortable doing that and sharing that … they shared a lot of themselves.”
“I also loved seeing the response of students and how enthusiastic the attendees were,” Ousey said, noting how wonderful it was to see students from a wide array of backgrounds coming together to celebrate the traditional Chinese event.
“It’s really neat that at Brandywine we’re able to have that cultural sharing,” Ousey said.
Ousey noted that it was especially impressive to see Chen and Wang, who are both first-year students, step in to organize and lead the Lunar New Year event.
“I just love seeing the growth in students and their leadership,” Ousey said. ” I can only imagine how much more growth there’s going to be. If as a freshman you’re doing this … I think it’s fantastic.”
Chen is in her second semester at Brandywine and Wang started just this semester. When Wang took the stage as the emcee of Friday’s event, he’d only been on campus for a few weeks.
The Lunar New year, Chen explained, is the “most important festival” in Chinese culture. As Chen detailed, the event depends on the lunar calendar and as a result can fall on different dates each year. Actual dates aside, Chen said, the Lunar New Year represents a time when “we finish all our year’s hard work and people can finally go home and rest with their families. It’s a big time to just celebrate with family after all the harvest and hard work," said Chen.
“Family is a really big thing in our culture, so to have this time to celebrate with family and to have the most fancy dinner of the year, that is really just the most amazing thing for us,” Chen added. “We also want to remember our precious gifts and the hard times that have passed, so that’s why we keep this as our most important day."
In China, Chen explained it is standard for families to all cook large meals, travel to visit one another’s homes, and end with a trip to the temple or a fair. “So it’s just about family,” Chen said. “It’s a time only about family.”
Chen shared that she came to the United States to finish high school. Initially, her mom was here in the states with her. “But now I’m here alone, so this time is quite hard for me,” Chen said. “I’ll admit that, because it’s not an easy thing,” she added, noting that while she enjoyed connecting with her family virtually and receiving virtual red envelopes (a traditional Asian gift of money around a holiday). “I do wish I could be there with them because that’s what we always do.
“Even though I’m far from them, that family connection is never broken no matter the distance,” Chen said.
To be able to bring the Lunar New Year festival to her new home here at Brandywine, Chen said, brought her so much happiness.
Sharing what it meant to be able to bring the event to his school, Wang noted that “in America, people still don’t’ know a lot about Chinese culture yet.”
“So I come to find out that people who’ve been living in America, they don’t really know about us. Not yet. A lot of things that they do know might be largely inaccurate. So I was hoping that I could help in this way,” Wang said.
Both Wang and Chen emphasized the sheer amount of misinformation being spread about Asian and specifically Chinese culture and how they hoped their event would help dispel some of that.
“I want to try my best to do that,” Chen said, noting the smalls steps she’s taking towards sharing the “beautiful” parts of her “ancient and really elegant” culture with her new community.
“I can share it with the school that is quite a big community, but we’re trying to take every step we can to just make it better,” Chen said.
Both Chen and Wang work as international student mentors in the Office of Multilingual and International Student Programs, an opportunity they’ve both taken full advantage of as a way of paying it forward.
“I really loved the atmosphere in the office,” Wang said of the environment in the multicultural club space. “I wanted to carry on this friendly and accepting atmosphere and culture in this office, and bring it on to future international students to come,” Wang said. “I want to be able to do my part in making international student feel more at home.”