Friday, July 23, 2010

A Chinese look at July Fourth celebrations

By Yunhua Li*

HOUGHTON -- When international students observe Americans celebrating Independence Day in a variety of ways (like traditional picnics, parades, fireworks, traveling around, visiting friends and family members or attending concerts), it can be a challenge to understand this different festival celebration. Looking at Independence Day, international students may be curious about American culture and join in celebration events to learn more.

 Michigan Tech international students enjoy the Lake Linden Fourth of July Parade. (Photo © 2010 and courtesy Xueqian Lu, Michigan Tech master's student in civil engineering)

Michigan Tech international students observed this July Fourth in different ways. Some people attended parades, some watched fireworks and some were invited to barbecues. Chinese students, for example, enjoyed the parades and fireworks at Lake Linden and a barbecue at Chassell Beach. They all believed that they gained a deeper understanding of American culture. As an international student myself, I believe that no matter what country international students study in, they should try to understand its culture.

Weizhon Lai is a newcomer and is pursuing his master’s degree in civil engineering. He went to see the Lake Linden parade. Lai said he saw horses, police cars, farmers, people who decorated their own suits and cars, and children catching candy. These all showed him the local culture.

"The parade was interesting because I never saw this type of parade in China," Lai said.

In comparison with China, things are totally different. Horses are hardly seen in China, because they have to live in special areas and are not allowed on the street. Police cars hardly join in local social events and are serious in public. American people like to display their talents in front of people, but Chinese are more likely to present their ability only if they are sure that they are good enough.

Xiang Sun is a postgraduate student in material science; he has been in the U.S. for seven years.

"I like to see the parade, because I feel the people who joined the parade were active and relaxed and really went into the parade like actors," he said.

The Chinese Independence Day parade, according to Sun, was in front of Tienanmen Square in Beijing on October First. The parade showed the whole country’s development, and nearly 60 ethnic groups gave professional performances. The parade was formal and serious. It is like a show or an exhibit, and the whole country could watch it on TV. There were no local parades at all.

 Xueqian Lu, a master's student in civil engineering, has been at Michigan Tech for a few weeks. He joined the fireworks activities in Lake Linden the night before July Fourth.

"The fireworks were not as big as I saw in China, but they were right in front of me," Lu said. "China has fireworks on Independence Day, but most people can only see them on TV because people are not allowed to have fireworks in the city. We like to have fireworks during New Year and have them outside in the villages or towns."

Ming Xie is a PhD student. He joined the barbecue with a group of Chinese friends. In China, Xie said, barbecue places are limited and are not usually available because of the big population and limited public spaces. People do travel around and go out with friends, and that is why during festivals the parks and popular destinations are so crowded.

"It was fun to eat out, talk to friends and enjoy the sunshine and beach," Xie said.

A retired teacher and American citizen with a master's degree in Asian history had an experience similar to those of the Chinese students -- observing the differences between cultures when she lived in China. Shelley Ritchie taught English in Shanghai for three years and attended the October Fist Chinese Independence Day.

"I could not image there would be so many people on the street," Shelley said. "It was so crowded. It looked like everyone was out to celebrate this festival."

Studying in different countries provides opportunities to experience new cultures and learn about the differences between the countries. All the Chinese students said they enjoyed their opportunities to experience new aspects of American culture during the recent July Fourth activities in the Keweenaw.

*Editor's Note: Guest reporter Yunhua Li is a Michigan Tech international student from China studying in the Humanities Department. She is the only international student in David Clanaugh's summer journalism class. Students in the class have been contributing articles for Keweenaw Now as part of their class assignments.

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