Learning about the Chinese New Year

Paulina Montaldo
Spanish Teacher, Ursuline High School, Spanish Teacher
Adjunct Faculty, Youngstown State University 

A beautiful dragon decorates the hallway of the Department of Modern Languages at Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio. We celebrate the Chinese New Year, despite not offering the language, to enrich ourselves by learning about the extraordinary Chinese culture.  Before the Covid pandemic, our school had a group of exchange students from China who attended our school during the school year. The program has been discontinued for now, but we still have several local Asian families who send their children to our school. As it has always been in our interest that students learn about different cultures as a way to encourage them to respect diversity whatever it may be, we celebrate Chinese New Year. We started by decorating with Chinese lanterns that we made ourselves. The instructions for folding and cutting the paper gave us the opportunity to review formal and informal commands. Despite this being the year of the rabbit, we check the Chinese calendar so as not to forget the names of all the animals. We were lucky enough to enjoy a very delicious Chinese meal provided by the parents of a student who owns a restaurant in the city of Youngstown. It was fun to watch the students learn how to handle chopsticks. 

By using Rosetta Stone, our students were able to learn a few Chinese words including greetings and leave-takings. It was a new challenge for the AP students who are accustomed to comparing and contrasting foreign cultures with their own. Once again, the AP students had to prepare for the May exam. This preparation gives them the opportunity to learn more about their own culture, a fact that our AP teachers know well. It is easy for students to say that the traditional dance of Argentina is the tango or the flamenco in Spain. But when they have to compare this tradition with their own, they realize that they do not know what the equivalent is in their culture. That is the moment in which they have to think and investigate.

Art, such as sculpture, painting, and architecture, were also present through a small photo exhibition hung in the school hallway.  Everyone had the opportunity to admire the delicacy of some paintings, the incredible structure of the pagodas, and the fury of the Dragons. 

The students enjoyed learning about Chinese culture. Our school offers Spanish, French, and Italian, and we teachers are open to our students learning even more. We aspire that our classes are not just an elective within the school curriculum because we believe that learning to value and respect cultural differences can mean an important social change in a world where we must look more for what unites us than what divides us.

Happy Chinese New Year and I invite you to celebrate with your students. We will surely continue to do so. It enriches us and gives us the opportunity to learn even more about our own identity.