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Friday, August 9, 2013

CTY Chronicles

As usual, I apologize for not having updated in ages. There is so much going on in the world and I honestly feel overwhelmed sometimes but lately there has been much more downtime. I am not sure whether this is a sign of changing times or if there is really a lack of eventful things taking place around this time of year.

For those of you who I have not yet been in contact, for the past three weeks I have been at a summer camp colloquially known as Nerd Camp. The more official term is CTY, Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth. They offer a slew of programs, from family explorations at various museums around the world to online courses and their most popular -- the summer camp. These take place on sites around the world at dozens of colleges. For instance, Dublin, Hong Kong, Saratoga Spring (NY), Los Angeles (CA), etc. My site had been Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

When I had to choose my sites over five months ago, I was mainly concerned with the courses available. The class I was interested in taking -- Cognitive Psychology -- was conveniently offered at Lancaster, Session II. Further probing brought me to the fact that not only was Lancaster the longest running site in the CTYprogram, but it was also the most tradition heavy. I applied, was offered a spot, and thus my adventures began.

Anyway, I arrived and was dismayed to find that there was literally no wifi on campus. What was a stereotypically wired teenage girl like myself supposed to do at a sleepaway camp for three weeks without Internet? It was in such a manner that I trudged myself through check-in, up the stairs to my dorm, into my room, and through my luggage. Seeing the large and empty expanse of a college dorm (which I was surprised to find was much more vacant than the hotel rooms I was used to) made me wonder if I might have just underpacked -- just a little. After all, I was seeing kids with loaded trunks packing for this three week camp, which even had laundry!

Our next stop was the dining hall for lunch. My parents, as all Asian parents are, were pleasantly surprised to see that the buffet styled dining hall was open to no charge for all families checking in. The food wasn't quite as impressive as I expected, but the Kosher/Internation/Vegan/Organic, aka KIVO, section served up a nice combination of fresh wraps, sandwiches, hotdogs, and a deli for the Middle Eastern cuisine. I noticed quite a few kids wearing the strangest fedoras, top hats, and duct tape paraphernalia. Unfortunately, I was left to the elements after we made a final dorm check after lunch.

Once my parents left, I was literally in a daze. I met with some of the other girls in my hall right before our first official hall meeting. They called me a "squirrel" since apparently all new CTYers are referred to that name. Anyway, I immediately learned that this camp was far from your average summer camp. We started off with some interesting discussions about ourselves, as well as "speed friending" which was basically the Platonic version of speed dating.

After all of that excitement, we still had to attend class. Imagine my surprise when the teachers asked us to call them by their first names! Plus, we sat in a horseshoe shape as opposed to the typical rows in order to promote group discussions. Although there was a pretest on psychology (which practically no one aced, given the fact that no one wants to sign up voluntarily for a course on a subject they already know) I was assuming that was the only graded assignment we would need to complete.

I left, tired and enthusiastic about what was to come. We have a grassy area in front of our dorm called the "Quad" where kids sometimes hang out to play frisbee or tag. At night, however, it's transformed into a high-energy, cacaphonous dance party. With the older kids leading the traditional dances, nerds moving like no one was watching, and voices joining in with the chorus, I'm happy to report that it was definitely a new experience for me. One I'm not quite letting go.

And that was only the first day. As hectic as things got at CTY (and oh, they can definitely get rowdy especially during the second week) I was able to keep tabs on the happenings. I'll try to keep you posted, as well as to share some photos, but I can't make promises yet!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year!

There's been a lot going on lately, as I usually find when the new year starts - and I'm not just talking about the coming of 2013 (though it's honestly been a while into the new year and I'm a bit ashamed I haven't update more often!) As any self respecting Asian should know, the lunar new year had recently passed, bringing on bucketloads of fortune with the coming of 4711.

I was actually a bit disappointed we hadn't been in Chinatown this past weekend to celebrate the new year.
Despite the multitudes of Asians that currently reside in our hometown, the school district refuses to have an official holiday for the occasion, or at least to call off school. It's only by sheer luck that President's Day falls on the same weekend, giving us a well-deserved three day weekend. However, in most cities and towns of mainland China and surrounding areas, kids are off for about three weeks.
In case you hadn't already heard, there was actually a visit to our middle school by a travelling dance troupe from a club in Nanjing, China. The performers were a group of amateur dancers ages 8-16, travelling as a school performance group on international tour. This was one of their many stops they made throughout the year, and it seemed as though they already knew what they were doing. The kids were adorable - their little dances were definitely something to marvel at, as well as their conversation level English. There's just something that you can't pass over about stuttering Chingrish mixed in with the adorable qualities of pre-pubescent innocence. Anyway, the press came to interview us about our part in the event. The Chinese teacher at our school, Mrs. C, had connections with several travelling performance groups from mainland and she was able to set up some pretty neat opportunities for the students to experience culture. This was the second such cultural experience, and the Chinese class was heavily involved, even putting on a school-wide talent show to welcome the new year.

The kids had been with us for about three days. Our parent-teacher groups were able to house all of them in various families throughout town, as well as provide for their food and travel needs. I had the privilege of leading around one of the younger girls - a sweet ten-year-old with the most adorable stash of Hello Kitty merchandise that you can really only find in China - for their stay. They left last Friday, after we conducted a closing ceremony consisting of a gift exchange (plenty of good-luck charms, oranges, and jade pieces), final interviews, and a heartfelt goodbye.

On the same note, our local Chinese school had been featured in the same newspaper. Yesterday was the (postponed) Chinese New Year celebration, drawing in a crowd of local townsfolk, VIP Board of Education members, local company heads, and students of all nationalities. Our school usually organizes an annual dinner party, with raffles, food, games, and a talent show that lasts from 4-6pm. This year, the nor'easter, snow storms, and other winter madness forced the hosting schools to close their buildings for the weekend of the celebration. To make matters worse, the auditorium, our customary stage for the performance, was reserved this week to make room for a Wizard of Oz musical rehearsal. They transported all of the sound systems, lighting crew, and stage crew to...the gymnasium.

Nothing more than a few bleachers greeted us, but at least the show was able to go on. As one of the performers, I came to the high school, for indeed it would be held in the morning of Saturday at our high school commons area, and helped set up the decorations the night before the performance. In a pizza-induced coma, the orchestra feverishly practiced their cantankerous melodies on ill-tuned erhus and dizis, the dance team stumbled as they tried to coordinate on a hardwood dance floor, and the little kids ran through the legs of anyone who was standing with their feet wide apart enough to glance through. In other words, a pretty productive Friday night.

Come Saturday, I was awake at about 6AM, making preparations. There was too much going on to sleep at any rate. My parents prepared the red envelopes that were given to all of the Chinese school students, made final orders for the food (because our usual take-out restaurants were receiving catering orders to nearly a dozen other Chinese New Years in the area and Papa John's pizza was being uncooperative as usual), and reviewed the announcements they'd be making before the culmination of our celebration.

I won't even go into details about the performance. Let's just say, a magic show without the fancy footwork and lighting that goes well is already a miracle in itself. And an orchestra minus surround sound whose songs are heard at the back of the changing room is pretty amazing, too. Someone had brought in a box of Munchkins, so in between acts all of the performers were on a sugar high, pretty reminiscent of the night before. I could barely keep my eyes open for the reporters as they gawked about our dragon and lion "puppets." Nice try guys, but it's for VIPs only.

To sum it all up, we came home exhausted, filled to the brim with mei fun and lo mein, and otherwise pretty satisfied. Despite putting on a performance at the last possible minute, we were able to get pretty much the same satisfying reaction from the community and I guess in the end that's what really counts. So there you have it. Chinese New Year.

(By the way, if you ever happen to go to our new year's celebration and have a few raffle tickets in hand, the red envelope raffles are probably the most lucrative. Either that or the electronics and games for the kids. They were raffling off a set of Pokemon figurines and a Hello Kitty waffle maker, which I literally pulled out my eyebrows begging, but there's no telling whether the goddess of fortune heard. Summary: my brother walked out with the Pokemon, my friend with the lil' kitty.) Anyway, have a safe and happy new year, eat lots of great food and remember to listen to your parents!
 

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