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In Beijing, Ringing in the Year of the Sheep

By Tom Fearon
In Beijing, Ringing in the Year of the Sheep

The International School of Beijing (ISB) held its annual Chinese New Year parade on 13 February, with hundreds of parents, teachers and students flocking to the school’s Fitness and Tennis Center for colorful celebrations ushering in the Year of the Sheep.
ISB’s Chinese Program director Cliff Zeng and Head of School Tarek Razik shared their best wishes with the community ahead of the school-wide festivities. Dressed in traditional Chinese attire, students and teachers marched around the dome’s track displaying masks and carrying giant ornate dragons. From arts and crafts to martial arts, the parade culminated with a stunning performance by the school’s Wushu Warriors of Wisdom.
More than a dozen cultural workshops led by teachers and high school students in Chinese and English were held throughout the day to give everyone a taste of Chinese New Year traditions. Taste buds were tempted outside the student cooking lab, where students Jessica H. and Boris H. operated their Oodles of Noodles workshop.
The Grade 10 duo explained the significance of noodles at Chinese New Year to elementary school students before serving three varieties: dandan noodles from Sichuan Province, served with a spicy sauce and preserved vegetables; hefen noodles, a succulent variety of rice noodles; and lamian noodles, hand-pulled dough noodles popular in Northwest China.
“We explained to students the significance of noodles in Chinese culture, especially around Chinese New Year. We also showed them a few different types of noodles from different regions. Noodles symbolize longevity, so there is a lot of superstition and tradition associated with them,” said Jessica.
Students also sank their teeth into niangao (Chinese New Year cake), a fried glutinous rice snack with a walnut or date filling. Grade 12 pair Alison M. and Daphne M. explained the 3,000-year history of niangao before students made the festive snack and tried it for themselves.
As an international school based in China’s capital, ISB is uniquely positioned to provide teachers and students with diverse opportunities for language acquisition and cultural education through its Chinese Program. The school also deepens students’ connection to China through cross-disciplinary experiential learning opportunities, including student-led dialogues in Chinese with celebrities including tennis star Li Na and internationally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou.
“By living here, we get to take advantage of the opportunities we have to delve into the culture and understand China on a deeper level,” said Alison. “Having a strong cultural connection with our host country enriches learning both in and out of the classroom.”
Other Chinese delicacies prepared at workshops by ISB students included tangyuan (sticky dumplings) and bubble tea. Elsewhere at the school, classrooms buzzed with activity as students mastered traditional Chinese games including mahjong and Chinese chess, as well as the ancient arts of calligraphy, Peking opera mask painting and paper cutting.
“I think it really helps us expand our learning, especially since we’re living in a country with so much culture,” Grade 7 student Francisco M. said of cultural activities. “They help us think like Chinese people. Almost everywhere you go you see the Chinese calligraphy wishing you luck and happy new year. It reminds you not just of where you are, but of the strong bond we have with China.”
More than 20 Chinese-language teachers are at the forefront of ISB’s language-acquisition program, which begins in the Early Years (PreK 3 and PreK 4) and continues all the way through to the study of literature and language for heritage students and for non-native speakers. ISB teachers have on average more than 15 years of experience teaching Chinese as a second language in international schools.
In addition to Chinese New Year, ISB also holds school-wide activities commemorating other notable dates on the lunar calendar, including the Dragon Boat, Mid-Autumn and Qingming festivals.

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