Are You Coming Home by Rebecca Lim
"Are you coming home for the holidays?"
Each time I answered "no"-to a relative, an old friend, a curious acquaintance-it became more and more real that I would not be with my family for Christmas, and I felt increasingly sad about spending the holidays away from home.
Christmas is more than just a day-it's a feeling. I love the toasty smell of firewood in the cold night air, the sight of neighborhoods draped in strings of lights and candles glowing from within cookie scented homes. For me, Christmas is about quality time with loved ones, who look forward to coming together from all parts of the world to be together to celebrate and make memories. It's about appreciating the past year and reflecting on both the blessings and the hardships. And it's about Jesus Christ, the original reason for the season.
This year, even as I knew that December 25th was approaching, I struggled to feel the joy and anticipation that I usually do during the holidays. Though I had mentally prepared myself for the inevitable change of scenery in Kinmen, I still underestimated how much I would miss the traditions I had taken for granted my whole life. In order to try and create a the sense of Christmas I longed for in Kinmen, I listened to Christmas music, decorated my apartment with a little tree, watched a Christmas movie, and even participated in a gift exchange. I spent several classes teaching my students about Christmas, making Christmas crafts, singing Christmas songs, and playing Christmas games.
On Christmas Eve, a couple friends and I performed three songs at the National Quemoy University Christmas show, which was my first time singing publicly anywhere. We sat under a beautiful Christmas tree, dozens of dazzling lights, and the gaze of a very gracious audience. I felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity, and was reminded of the immense number of experiences I have only had because I am living here in Kinmen.
That night, I reflected on Christmas and all the different ways I celebrated it this year. I realized that in trying to explain what Christmas means to me to my students in Kinmen, I had actually done more Christmas activities and shared the Christmas spirit with more people than I had ever done in any given year before coming to Taiwan.
To be sure, Christmas in Kinmen does not feel exactly the same as Christmas in Virginia. But in many ways, it is better.
Next year, I will miss cutting paper snowflakes and constructing gingerbread houses with my adorable and talented students, decorating cookies and exchanging gifts with my fellow ETAs, and learning more about Christmas by seeing it through others' eyes.
As 2016 approaches, I'm excited to share my New Year's traditions with my students, and am even more excited to learn about how they celebrate. Looking back on the past year, and even just the past few months, I'm in awe of how much I've learned and how far I've come. There are so many reasons to be joyful, thankful, and hopeful. Happy Holidays, everyone!
Christmas in Kinmen by Ross Busch
On December 25th, I celebrated Christmas without my family for the first time. I felt a little uncomfortable, and a little homesick. Never before in my life had I been asked to work during the holidays, and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to manage my responsibility to plan Christmas events for my students as well as my responsibility to celebrate with my family. I was expecting to work through a week of stressful Christmas plans and performances, while never actually having the opportunity to relax and appreciate one of my favorite holidays. Thankfully, the week of December 25th was filled with Christmas cheer and storybook surprises. I will share one of those surprises with you below…
On Wednesday the 23rd, Jhuohuan Elementary School held its annual Christmas party. That day also happened to be the last day of service for one of our great tidayis, Yuming. In preparation for the party I dressed up as Santa Claus to add to the Christmas atmosphere of our party. As a surprise, our school also gifted Yuming a Santa outfit for his "retirement from service" celebration. After Yuming reluctantly put on the overly large red pants, the goofy red hat, and plastic belt, we were ready to celebrate. Instead, our fellow teachers and tidayis demanded that we go to 7-11 and film ourselves buying a few things. They figured it would be funny, and we figured the same!
While walking along the quiet roads of Small Kinmen we encountered a few fellow teachers, and some local bulls. It was only after our picture that we realized wearing red in front of a bull was not the smartest decision... Then, Donglin, the largest village on Small Kinmen, erupted with the sound of our Zhuren's voice on the public loudspeaker. She explained, "there are two Santa Clauses walking to 7-11! All kids and parents should meet them there for candy!" It was only a matter of time before the streets were filled with our students, their parents, and grandparents. Bike wheels were screeching, cars were stopping, and kids were yelling! By the time we arrived, 7-11 was packed with people and a crowd had gathered in front of the building. Yuming and I bought a bunch of candy with the help of a few other teachers and we threw the chocolate and lollipops into the crowd. Together, we took pictures with babies and adults alike. When we ran out of candy we simply broke into song (Jingle Bells) until more candy arrived. We continued to toss candy into the crowd until there was simply none left to give. Yuming and I wished everyone a merry Christmas and laughed all the way back to Jhuohuan.
My family has always stressed the importance of "giving" on Christmas. We "give" our time to each other, we "give" gifts, and we "give" as volunteers. For us, Christmas was never about the gifts we received, but always about who could "give" the most. While celebrating Christmas on Small Kinmen I was able to experience the pure joy that comes from "giving." Although I was not able to celebrate Christmas with my family, I was able to give help make Christmas come alive for so many of my students and their families. To have had this opportunity to give so much to others means more to me than any gift I have ever received. I am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in Kinmen and I will always remember the first time I played Santa Claus on Small Kinmen. I will be telling this story for a long time.
My Holiday Season by Sam Jeong
Growing up in Korea, exchanging presents on Christmas Day was never much of a family tradition for me. One Christmas morning in second grade, I remember waking up to find a pair of gloves by my feet and being supremely disappointed that Santa, out of all other gifts, had to pick gloves for me. I think I voluntarily stopped believing in Santa after that Christmas.
Something that my family did do as a tradition nearing the New Year was sharing prayer requests for the following year. I always scribbled down my requests on a fresh sheet of white paper with a pencil. One year, I remember praying for a puppy, a trip to Africa, and for my grandmother to live until 500 years old. Maybe my prayer requests acted as Christmas lists, but I still remember what it is like to sit around my living room sipping hot milk, listening to each of my family members list off their prayer requests. It was fun, it was intimate, and it was where I first felt what being a family means.
It was odd spending December in Kinmen. No biting cold, no glittering lights everywhere, no giant Christmas sale posters; no conventional preparations for a Western holiday season. But I asked my students what two things they liked most about the holiday season, and the resounding answers were: eating candy and spending time with family. I probably would have said the same thing. On Christmas, the entire school danced. From my little first graders to goofy sixth graders, it was wonderful to witness the entire 古城國小 student body come together, and even more wonderful to see the proud smiles from the parents and grandparents who came to see their 小朋友 perform.
This Christmas season, I have been mulling over the idea of home and family. Since moving to the States in middle school, I have seldom gone back home to Korea for Christmas, and the five of us being together in one place has become a rarity. But once the end of the year approaches, I find myself looking for a white sheet of printer paper and a pencil and writing down my prayer requests for the next year. This year, I am praying for a puppy, a trip to Afr… no, no. I am asking for my grandmother's health, for my mom's health, for a nephew or a niece, a peace of mind as I search for jobs, and the ability for me to really love my students at 古城國小and be the best teacher I can be until the end of my time here. Perhaps you do not necessarily need to be physically at home to be home. Perhaps all you need is a paper, a pencil, a cup of hot milk, and sounds of memories from long ago.
And speaking of family, my fellow Fulbright ETAs has served that role for me this year. It is hard to believe that we met as complete strangers in August, and are now greeting the New Year together as great friends. We tease each other, get mad, laugh, play games, eat inordinate amounts of food, give each other rides, and are there for each other, as siblings would be. Sure, some may argue that we are just friends, but I argue that living in Kinmen and the amount of dependability that our relationship necessitates allows you to find "siblinghood" in a friendship-Friendblings!
This week, I am headed to Taipei for the New Year's Eve firework show at Taipei 101. I will be welcoming the New Year with some friendblings. I cannot wait to see what next year brings. A Happy New Year to all! （本文由學術交流基金會外師群撰寫）