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Lily’s Tale   Most recent entry: Mar 29, 2012

Here is the on-going story of a former Jiangnan University student from Wuxi, China as written in emails to me.
She is now working as a Chinese teacher intern at Barnard Mandarin Elementary School in San Diego, California, USA. (click here to see a map showing where San Diego is in the USA)

Lily’s Tale
(in her own words)

entries sent October 7, 2011 

Week 1                                                                             Next

After 16 hours flight, finally I arrived at San Diego International airport. There I was warmly welcome by my host family: Mr. and Ms. Robinson and their 2 children. They drove me to their house. OMG! The first thing came to my eyes is toys and the second sight is toys, too. They are tiny or big, plastic or wood, cute furniture in doll houses. One girl is 7 and the other is 6 and every birthday and Christmas, they got presents from relatives and friends. They showed me the room, clean and cozy. When opening the window, I can see the Mission Bay. I was told that on some sunny days, I am lucky enough to see the Pacific Ocean faraway. Without leaving my room, I can see the sunrise and sunset. That is fantastic.

The dinner time comes. To be frank, that is pretty much harder to adjust. Uncooked vegetable, Pizza, brownies, no familiar Chinese cuisine, which at first make me starve everyday. But on weekends, I have parties after parties. My host took me to the barbeque and birthday parties. Compared with China, such activities are usually simple here, just inviting several friends to come over and providing birthday cake and snacks.

At home, we tend to make it a festival, especially every 10th birthday. The whole extended family plus friends and sometimes colleagues are invited to celebrate in a restaurant, where a feast will be held. Sometimes people compare with each other on the money they spend on the birthday party. Here in US, I feel the friendship is more sincere and simple. Happiness and get-together is the spirit of the party. When communicating with others, I feel more frank and easygoing.

As for the climate here in San Diego, it’s really beyond my expectation. I thought it must be as humid and hot as that of Xiamen, the city where I come from: same marine location, different types of weather, however. In the middle of the sun, it is hot; while turning to the shadow even at the same moment, you will feel chilly. So I usually wear shirt inside and bring a sweater in case of chilly temperature.

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Week 2                                               Previous Entry    Next

My adventure with Barnard Mandarin Elementary School began. This school is called “Magnet”, which means distinguished one. The school enjoys a 65-year history and it became immersive language teaching just last year. So kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2 is immersive teaching while from Grade 3 to Grade 6 having 1-hour/day Chinese class.

The principal is very enthusiastic, pragmatic and full of energy. Every morning, he will speak to the parents and pupils in the school auditorium and on Mondays, he even play guitar himself to let everyone sing the patriotic folk song. This act is quite different from the school master I saw in China. They usually have more authority above. In primary school, we have a national flag rising ceremony, which is more serious and ritual and then follows the national anthem part. We can hardly see a master play guitar in front of all parents and faculties.

In US educational system, there is a year called pre-school before kids going to kindergarten at the age of 5. The pre-school and kindergarten differ from half day to full day long. Some of the kindergartens are attached to the elementary school and Barnard is one of them. I helped Grade1, Grade2, K1 and K2. The kindergarten is only one year, so K1 and K2 is the same year level, just different teachers. In China, we have an optional 3-year kindergarten before the formal 6-year elementary school, which is compulsory.

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Week 3                                                 Previous Entry    Next

I was assigned to accompany a boy with autism. At first, I was a little bit disappointed about the assignment. I felt frustrated at the thought that I come from afar just to watch a problem child. He didn’t share with toys or books with his pals. If someone tries to grasp something from his hand, he will shout in a desperate way. He tried every means to get rid of the class to chase the pigeon. In a word, he is indeed a headache for the teacher. After he was diagnosed as autism through the test, I got the duty to keep him quiet. He is not that bad. When he read some nonfictional novels and played Legos, he would concentrate on what he was doing, not interrupting others. I sighed a deep sigh.

But things were more complicated than I thought. School sent for a special expert who was adept at dealing with children’s behavior to assist the boy’s formal pre-school teacher to look after the boy. Sometimes another intern teacher will replace my place to accompany him. The expert told me that there are various kinds of autism behaviors. This boy is really gifted in comprehension and he knows much more words than his age peers. Our task is to help the boy follow directions of the teacher and learn some basic social skills.

His mother came every day to see his son and was unwilling to move him to another school. The school has the responsibility to culture the boy to best tap his potential. The expert also set examples of some successful man are autism victims. We set a series rules for the boy achieving goals. By more special training and 1-1 class, he could concentrate longer in class without holding a brash in hand to make him calm. We would give him a smile face every time when he could behave himself well. Little by little, the boy followed the teacher’s instructions.

I shared with good news with his mother, who is worried about his son’s performance at school. She really appreciated my job and kept saying “thank you!” with a deep smile. She introduced me to her family members and let me watch her 3 kids with great trust. I was encouraged by this kind of belief and feel to be relied on is such an honor. I began to find my job was rewarding.  Converted to helping those who need my help is a way to demonstrate my value.

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Week 4                                                 Previous Entry    Next

How time flies! I have already spent the whole month here in USA. I am lucky enough that I have no jet lag, not much cultural shock and even like food here. I have further understanding of the American life, make more friends and appreciated the diversified culture as I stay longer. I went out shopping, watch movies, go the night pub downtown and join YMCA for yoga class. I let myself to get involved in the local life and try to learn more language. At work, when everything goes as a routine in daily life, and curiosity has been gradually taken place by responsibility, I know I am growing up. A sense of belonging and being needed is of paramount importance. Tomorrow will be another day.

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entries sent October 17, 2011 

Week 5                                                     Previous Entry    Next

Unfortunately, I got a bad toothache and could hardly fall asleep at night. My host mother had let me try Orajel, a kind of oral pain reliever for toothache, but it worked for temporary use for the pain. Then I took Ibuprofen, a common painkiller here. My host mother and her friends here were so surprised to find that it was my first time to take the painkiller in my life. It is no surprise that people here are less tolerate to pain than we Chinese do. By the way, the medicine would work so effective for me. After taking pills and a good sleep, I felt my pain lessened.

After all, I had to see the dentist to solve the problem fundamentally. Since my insurance doesn’t cover the dental cost, I had to go the scaling fee dental-Hillcrest, the system provided for the low income household. Besides those who had appointment, only 4 walk-ins were accepted during the day. We went there so early and there I met really poor people, most of whom were Spanish-speaking people. So all the staff there was bilingual and all the formss there were written in espanol on the other side. But I got a big problem and the dentist had to remove my wisdom teeth.

It such a big surgery that the small dental could not do it and she suggested me go another fancy one. What’s more, they didn’t charge me when I filled in the blanks which proved me I was a low-income person. I had never had that experience before. My host mother had made an appointment immediately to the Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery.

In the afternoon, we went there. It was quite different in China, here the equipment is more automatic and the dental is separated from the other department of the hospital. I took the x-ray and my photo before I saw the dentist. A little bit scared, but really helpful. During our consult with the Canadian dentist, he boasted American’s advanced dental equipment and he was confident about his skill, which let me relieve a little.

X-rays of Lily's teeth
X-Ray of Lily's teeth     X-Ray of Lily's teeth

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Week 6                                                     Previous Entry    Next

At this weekend a neighbor of Robinsons who also hosts a teacher from China, took me to the downtown SHOUT club along with his visiting niece. It was my first time to feel the atmosphere of the American’s night life. The whole street is crowded with all blocks of young people in all kinds of makeup and costume. It is the same thing in China. But I have never seen such a scene: the whole streets are full of people queuing for the bar.

It differed what my routine life at host familyPiano player at SHOUT club  and elementary school. In the past, I just went to the light bar at home, which plays slow jazz and folk music. Here, people under 21 are allowed to have alcohol drinks or go the bar. In China, the age limit is 18. The SHOUT club was full of people who just came back from busy work. There was also a band in the bar, sometimes they played guitar and in most times they played the piano. To be frank, I didn't understand what they sang, but I can feel the emotion of the crowds. Due to the heavy pressure working and living in the city, everyone needs a way to release and let out the energy.

YMCA in San DiegoThe next day, we went the YMCA, a local gym providing classes for people to exercise including Yoga for all kinds, camp, water sports. I took Hatha Yoga Class. It’s cool. I had got the free guest pass. But next time maybe I am considering about my own membership after I filling in the low-income form.


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entries sent November 1, 2011 

Week 7                                                     Previous Entry    Next

As introduced in the orientation, church is only a social place to most Americans and you don't have to be a Christian if you enter a church. I am an atheist but I am willing to take an active role in participating in all kinds of different rituals here. So I went to various kinds of churches here in US. Some are called Baptist church and some is Methodist church, sorted by the degree of how strict they follow the rules of Bible, according to my understanding.

Picture: inside a churchOn Sundays I go to the church with my host parents and kids . Kids will go to the children's Sunday school provided by the church's teachers and their parents can settle down in the main auditorium to pray and follow the priest instructions. Usually, the Methodist one has shorter ritual part and less persuading, which is to my liking. However, I find that I really enjoy being buried in such a wonderful atmosphere in the praying, singing or listening to priest read the Bible. After the study part, we come to the meeting part,which provides the chance for people who attend the church to know about each other while you can have the dessert and coffee.

In the other times, I will go to Chinese Community Church (CCC), where I meet a lot of Chinese overseas students. The first time I went to CCC is introduced by a friend of mine and we went there to make dumpling, a typical Chinese food. We can speak Chinese and get to know each other. To my surprise, the ritual is not as long and tedious as I thought before. The Christian's lyrics is sung with very popular melody and also we can dance along with the rhythm.

Picture: Chinese dumplings Chinese dumplings (jiaozi)

God wants to see us happy. God should be in our heart and we should have a love and joy attitude to life. No matter whether you are an atheist or not, belief is of paramount importance in our life, that can partly explain why religion is still prevailing in the mainstream US society. Listening to the minister's pray and celebration song can really clean our soul and provide as a shelter from this hustle and bustle modern life.

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Week 8                                                     Previous Entry    Next

My host mother's mom arrived on Wednesday all the way from Philadelphia. She really surprised me by her vitality and vibrancy shown in her at 85. She flies everwhere and drives now and then, which it's quite different from my grandma's lifestyle. She seemed like a well-educated women and delicate gestures and costume reveals when she talks. She impressed me most was she always corrected my grammar and pronunciation, which didn't annoyed me though. She likes accurate and precise word usage and even correct her daughter's past tense use.

As my host mother had already told me, people from eastern past of America are tend to more conservative and they boast themselves as "Real Americans". They are more careful about their education and pay more attention to their work and study. Compared with western residents in US, they live less leisure life and aim high in their work achievement.It follows that they are not as open as western "cowboy",whom are consisted by lot of immigrants, Spanish speaking, in particular.

People in the eastern coast area like Virginia, South and North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, similar latitude as California, suffer more extreme weather due to no cover by mountains. How interesting! In the past, I regarded US as a general concept and suspect that all Americans are alike and the more I know about American and its people, the more I find the differences are.

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Picture: Lily in a Gazebo at the University of the West

Lily in a gazebo at the University of the West

Picture: Sunset at the University of the West

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entries sent January 25, 2012 

Week 9                                                     Previous Entry    Next

October 31st is the Halloween Day, which is on my long-awaited list to see before I came to US. I used to read and watch movies about Halloween. Jack-'o- Lantern, pumpkin, ghost, trick or treat all these come to my mind relevant to Halloween. When I came here, I had a real experience to have a test of real festival myself.

Even 3 weeks ago, my host mother took the kids to Michaels, the Child's drawing of a jack-o-lantern with long black hairsupermarket sells arts and crafts, to buy the sticks, pencils, pumpkin, plastic lanterns. At school 2 week before the Day, kids were busy drawing pumpkins and learn Mandarin words related to Halloween. 1week ago, the whole street is full of the atmosphere of Halloween.

On that day, teacher said to me today she was afraid that kids would go anarchical because of the presents provided by parents. The little kids could hardly resist the temptation of all kinds of candies and small gifts and did not I. The little presents were so cute and lovely. At dawn, kids held a pumpkin lantern and a pumpkin package to knock every neighbors' door. When the door opened, they would say "trick or treat". Usually in every household, they will prepare presents for kids.

A man and Lily. Prepping for HalloweenAs for the origin of this festival, there are different sayings. (Extract from

Some for Christian world and other in secular world. It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. To avoid being recognised by a soul, Christians would wear masques and costumes to disguise themselves, following the lighted candles set by others to guide their travel for worship the next day. Today, this practice has been perpetuated through trick-or-treating. In Britain the rituals of Halloween came under attack during the Reformation as Protestants denounced purgatory as a "popish" doctrine incompatible with the notion of predestination.[In addition the increasing popularity of Guy Fawkes Night (5th November) from 1605 on saw Halloween become eclipsed in Britain with the notable exception of Scotland. Initially confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds.
(end of extract from )

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Hallowneen decorations

Jack-o-lantern desisgn Jack-o-lantern design

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Week 10                                                     Previous Entry    Next

I got a fever on Friday night but on Saturday morning, I felt much better. I went to Mission Trails Regional Park for a hiking. The sky was so bright that it was just like being washed by the water. In fact, yesterday it poured heavily. That was the perfect time for hiking. The clouds seemed as the painted splashes the blue sky and the green hills tended to be more green under the reflection the white and blue.

Mission Trails Regional Park Lily in Mission Trails Regional Park

After hours' of journey, we went to a small top of the mountain, the view here was quite different from the one at the feet of the hill. As a famous Chinese poem goes," If you 'll enjoy a grander view of sight, you'd have to mount up to the greater height."

When I was in my university, I spent most of time hoofing around doing nothing and all I wanted was a cozy and lazy life. But as time going by, this temporary comfort can't satisfy me and I decided to kick off my bad habit to work hard. My host mother always tells me that during her experience, you don't have to rush to land a job, all you need is to find what can best fulfill your desire.

Taking this internship is a good way to see what is really in my heart. Personally, I really appreciated the idea of gap year in some countries, that is, to cast off their daily school life to head to be volunteers in a different circumstances. I was lucky enough to grasp the opportunity at the end year of my school life ( I am not intending a doctor degree), which surely help me to consider what I really want for my life.

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Week 11                                                     Previous Entry    Next

This Wednesday, a specialist from Confucius Institute, an Midway Aircraft Carrier Museumorganization to promote Mandarin teaching, came to Barnard. After the school was over, he invited us to go to a sightseeing to Midway. That was the first time to go to see this aircraft carrier.

On our ways, we 3 talked a lot about the Chinese teaching and career goals. He is experienced in language teaching and worked as a professor in a famous university in China. He offered many suggestions to us. Sometimes in life, we young students do need a mentor to guide us, but unfortunately, the chance is so slim due to my shyness. The experience in US really widen my horizon and let me know more professionals in different field and in language teaching, in particular.

Lily with salute to Bob Hope and the military

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Week 12                                                     Previous Entry    Next

 Here comes the Thanksgiving holiday finally. The Boyston's family was very kind to take me to his relatives in Flagstaff, Arizona, where the scenery is quite different than here in California. Arizona is home to desert and cactus,

Saguaro cactus in ArizonaSaguaro cactus

Barrel cactus

Barrel cacuts in Arizonawhich is the symbol of the Arizona state. It was my first time to view the real desert and experience the extremely desert climate since I live in the coastal area all the time. At night, when driving on the endless desert, I saw a whole sky of twinkling stars, I laid on my back as if I were in the milk way.

As for the family gatherings, I found something beyond my understanding at first. When my host father arrived in his sister's home, it was already noon. After their shooting the breeze for a while, my stomach began to protest and I heard his 7-year-old daughter told to me she is starving to death, but they were still chatting excitingly, ignoring our feelings. I was so surprised that even they notice my impatience they just gave me a bottle of water for "lunch". For the whole visit, the whole family just shared an apple. Nobody complained about that after the visit, on the contrary, it seemed that they really enjoyed the time.

At dinner time, the whole family went to a Mexican fast food chain restaurant. To my surprise again, the Boystons even invited some friends they met online who lived in the same city to just have food together. The least "tolerated" thing is they paid themselves separately. They went dutch even in the family reunion. The thing is unbelievable in China. The close family relatives come afar for a visit during holidays must be treated with a big treat. The host will pay the bill when they invite the guests to a formal restaurant for the dinner and they don't usually bring the casual friends when they have family get-together.

The inter-cultural experience tells me to embrace the difference and appreciate them. Be open minded.

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Petrified forest in Arizona

Petrified forest

Wupatki Sunset Crater Volcano







Wupatki Sunset Crater Volcano


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entry sent February 14, 2012 

Holiday Week                                                Previous Entry    Next

During the winter break, I went to San Francisco as well as New York city to take a tour, which gave me an impression quite different from San Diego where I live. SF is a delicate city where more cultures are appreciated while NY is a metropolis, a centre of finance and fashion.

Golden Gate Bridge 6 Sisters building
Golden Gate Bridge                         6 Sisters building

Both of them have a lot in common like they have China town, little Italy and financial street. China town is a must see for me, when I was there, I felt that I was in China again. Some of the sites I went to with the tourist agency - I felt it was very convenient for I was able to view all the icon sightseeings.

Stanford University Hearst Castle
Stanford University                         Hearst Castle

I went to New York city by myself, and found that traffic was the biggest headache. Though, I could stay in the Metropolitan Museum for the whole day. I missed the icon of USA, the Liberty Statue. But I still believe that one day I will have a chance to come back again. A sense of pity motivates me to work hard.

Time Square, New York City Baltimore Harbor
Time Square                             Baltimore Harbor

I also went to Washington D.C, the capital of US. With the contrast of the capital of China, Beijing, Washington D.C is relatively small and solemn with the only function as political centre.

Art MuseumCapital Hill, Washington D.C.
Art Museum                                    Capital Hill

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entry sent March 29, 2012 

February/March, 2012                                  Previous Entry    Next

From February to March, I am encountering with more adventures in US. At school, I was designated to teach 3 Flex Mandarin classes to 3rd and 6th grade every day. After school I am on the mission of losing weight to the level before I was abroad, so jogging along the beach and go on a diet are listed on my daily schedule.

Besides the burden of these 2 items, I am also occupied with my graduation thesis as well as the English interview when I return to China for I got the interview invitation from my ideal employer. How time flies and there is an end to everything, I cherish every moment here in US and I make the most of my time traveling, visiting and studying.

Universal Studios Globe Picture: Cinderella castle at Disneyland

During the holidays and weekends, I went to the Universal Studio, Disneyland and Hollywood. I visited my relatives living in Irvine and attended the Amity gathering. I tried to improve my English skills within such a short time, I read children’s book to the kids in my host family and let them correct my pronunciation and intonation.

Picture: Mickey Mouse in flowers at Disneyland Picture: Hollywood, Bruce Lee star

During my spare time, I read as many references on linguistic education as I can. Colorful and stressful as it both has at the same time, I want to live my American life here to its fullest.

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Photos from Lily

Welcome sign for Lily

picture: Welcome sign for Lily

Outside the house where Lily lives

picture: outside house where Lily lives

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picture: bbq

Ship festival

picture: Ship Festival

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The principal

picture: the principal


picture: Kindergarten

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The boy has finished his butterfly

picture: the boy displays his finished butterfly

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