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Festival exposes students to Chinese culture

Natalie Guarino, Staffer

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Walking into the Student Center on Feb. 10 was a unique experience. As a giant red dragon urged students from both lunchrooms to venture in, students encountered an array of activities for the Chinese New Year festival. To celebrate the Year of the Rooster, students from Chinese classes and their teacher, AiLien Hung, introduced Chinese customs to OPRF. In addition to the dragon that was manned by students, the festival had fortune telling, intricate paper cutting, drumming, and a lion dance. Students could win small red envelopes that held Chinese candy by winning a zodiac race or by participating in other games.

At one point, huge crowds of students almost filled the Student Center as they gathered around a rod game. As Chinese students clapped long sticks together to the beat of a drum, participants tried to step through the rods as quickly as possible without getting their feet caught. Junior Liam Burns, who participated in the game, enjoyed himself despite his mishaps. “It was really hard! I kept messing up, but it was really fun,” he said.

All the Chinese students at the festival put a lot of work into making it happen. Junior Ben Ho played the drum throughout lunch periods and other students were stationed at the various activities. “The students studied Chinese New Year for a while. They learned a lot about it and did a lot of projects for it,” says Hung.

Junior Gabe Darley, a third-year Chinese student, enjoys the holiday because of the new skills the students learn. “We spend the whole week building on skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on, like calligraphy and poetry,” he said.

Those involved with Chinese take the class for many reasons. Senior Sydney Tzeng chose the language because of her family’s roots. “I never really had any experience or connections to my heritage before taking this class,” she said. “There is also a sense of accomplishment from taking the language.”

Ho, who has taken Chinese since his freshman year, decided on the class because it looked “fun” and “different.”

Students in the program are very dedicated for various reasons, an important one being Hung. Darley appreciates Hung’s dedication to her students. “She is really willing to go above and beyond for all her students,” he says. “She’s very good at establishing personal connections with everyone she teaches.”

Chinese students are also aware of the language’s global relevance. “By taking Chinese,” Tzeng says, “you are connected to roughly one billion of the world population who also speak the language.”

Although the students who take Chinese say they love the class, it is still a very small program and has only been at OPRF for nine years. Three levels of the language include 43 students.

Hung feels that many people simply don’t know Chinese is a language offered at OPRF. “When we visit the middle schools many middle schoolers don’t even know the high school offers Chinese.”

The Chinese New Year festival is just one of the ways Hung and her students expose the OPRF community to Chinese culture. Through outreach to middle schools, flyers, and more, Hung and her students have tried to grow the program.

Hung has also been active in increasing awareness about the program in the community. In addition to visiting both Oak Park middle schools every year, Hung has made use of every communication tool at her disposal.

“We post on the websites of the feeder schools to let parents know we offer Chinese, I send out a letter every year to OPRF counselors to at least let their students know this language is offered… We’ve invited the Wednesday Journal to write about the program, to make it more visible in the community.”

Hung and her students have big hopes for the future. “My goal for the program,” Hung says, “is for it to be big enough to thoroughly serve the needs of our Oak Park and River Forest community.”

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The student news site of Oak Park and River Forest High School
Festival exposes students to Chinese culture