Guest blog by YFU USA Host Mother & Volunteer Denise Helland
Just over three years ago the Helland family welcomed their Chinese daughter into their family. Denise and Rob were empty nesters living in a rural suburb. Jiting came from a skyscraper apartment in one of the world’s biggest cities. They all had a lot to learn.
Homemade chocolate chip cookies opened the doors to US culture. I taughtJiting how to bake on her second day, making cookie dough and showing her how to use our oven. She said that she would never be able to make them at home in Shanghai as most ovens aren’t large enough for even a small baking pan. While we introduced her to the all-American cookie, it was moon cake that transported us to China. Jiting explained this treat comes in many varieties - not just marshmallow. While shopping at the local Asian store, we got a good laugh upon realizing that what they were selling as a popular “Chinese” packaged treat was probably the only thing there that was made in America!
To Jiting, American schools were open and less restrictive in class choice with the exception of US history. In her first weeks, Jiting exclaimed, "Why must I learn so many little details about US history? We have dynasties and our history is not so difficult!" As we had with our own girls, together with Jiting, my husband and I spent what seemed like endless hours on homework.
Jiting immersed herself in every holiday – dressing as Strawberry Shortcake for Halloween; helping to make Thanksgiving Dinner with extended family; and caroling with the Christmas Choir.
In turn, we jumped into the Chinese New Year!
Jiting brought us to a real Chinese restaurant where families of first and second generations had gathered together to celebrate the Year of the Dragon. We were sitting quietly waiting for a server when she jumped-up and started waving her arms and snapping her fingers! Oh, not the American way! We asked her to sit and wait patiently. Jiting looked at me and said, "Mom, if this is an authentic Chinese restaurant, then we must do like at home. If I don't get someone to come to us, we will never eat!" The evening was very special and a lot of fun. We laughed about fortune cookies – another treat made in America and not authentically Chinese.
Then it was our turn to surprise her. We’d learned about the red envelope tradition in which Chinese youth receive money from their parents or grandparents at the New Year. We presented Jiting with a special red envelope containing a collection of quarters from each of the 50 states. She was elated.
Jiting loved and was loved by all of us. When asked what she would like to do or where she would like to go before returning home, she chose to visit our extended family in Iowa as she’d grown fond of her American card-playing uncles and grandparents (she has become a master at cribbage).
Now a YFU China Volunteer, Jiting helps a new class of students each summer as they prepare for their adventures abroad. She is a lovely young woman attending college in the U.S. and is an unofficial liaison to Chinese university students who've never been to the States before. Our reunions continue every year – before the fall semester starts and at all the major holidays. Her first activity at every visit is to bake us chocolate chip cookies.