Six local families now have a connection to the Far East that will last a lifetime.
The families, who hosted Chinese middle school-age students for three months, shared tearful good-byes Saturday, as the students prepared for their journey home.
Host parents talked about their experiences during a small reception earlier this week.
Local residents Mike and Anna Brown often host international students.
“We like to be exposed to other cultures and be welcoming to the internationals,” Anna said. “We like them to feel welcomed to America and by Americans, and to let them see what it’s like to be with a typical American family.”
Her husband, Mike Brown, said they usually open their home to college or high school age students.
“We have three boys at home ourselves, and kept two boys,” Brown said. “We had good interaction. They learned to play Uno to have a way to interact. They liked it when they got to trump dad’s card.”
The Browns bought Uno cards as gifts for the boys to take home.
“They went to church with us and met other kids,” he said. “And they liked their iPads and electronic stuff.”
Dave Linebarger said their family loved playing Monopoly and would play long sessions.
“They loved teaching Chinese to us and we talked to them. We were always working on their English,” Linebarger said. “My daughter read Dr. Seuss to them.”
Linebarger said his family learned a lot about China.
“We also learned what they thought of America,” said Linebarger. “We got to see America though a young Chinese person’s eyes. They have a lot more freedom in America. Their schedules back home are work, work work.”
He took them to a Comparative Religions class he teaches at Northeastern State University and let them answer questions his students had written on cards a few days before.
A favorite experience was taking their students to a Tulsa Symphony outdoor concert.
In Tulsa, they visited the Asian market and it was like the students were at home again, he said.
“They blossomed in the end,” Linebarger said.
Discovering what foods the students liked was accomplished by taking a trip to the grocery store and letting them look at and choose some of their food.
They also ate many traditional, home-cooked meals like chicken and dumplings, meatloaf and spaghetti. While they don’t much care for sweets, many discovered ice cream.
“I’d buy groceries and think they’d last but they’d eat them up,” Judy Young said.
“They really enjoyed the food here. At first they didn’t like milk, then they were drinking a gallon a day.”
Young invited her friends over for a birthday celebration for the boys.
“They loved the party. In China, they only celebrate birthdays for young children and old people,” she said. “And my friends brought them all gifts.”
Judy’s husband, Stanley, said when the boys heard a new word, they would ask what it means and then use it the next day.
The boys attended youth group at the Young’s church.
“Their [Chinese] teacher said she thought people here are very kind and happier because of our religion. And we take more time for recreation and family,” said Judy.
Part of that recreation included visiting a friend’s farm as well as traveling to Branson, Mo.
“They really enjoyed Dixie Stampede, Silver Dollar City, and Patsy Smith’s riding horses, saddling horses, they loved horses,” she said.
Becky Wright said her student, Encheng Cui, likes to sing, so he chose the English name Michael because he likes Michael Jackson.
“We’ve had a lot of international students. He’s the youngest,” Wright said. “He had siblings for the first time and seemed to like having a family environment.”
He fit right into Wright’s family because he likes music.
“We took him to Texas and several of my concerts. He enjoyed American football,” Wright said. “He comes from a very wealthy family, he likes to cook and seemed to bond with us.”
Students adopted American names and shared their culture, their humor, and traditional foods during their time in Tahlequah. They attended classes at Tahlequah Middle School to learn English. A few are already making plans to come back and visit.
“The people here are nice, very friendly,” said “Belle” Jianqi Zhang. “I like Tahlequah school and my [host] family.”
She also enjoyed studying American History and eating spicy hot chicken and sausage biscuits.
One Sunday, she cooked a meal of traditional Chinese foods for Alice Han’s 13th birthday, inviting all the students.
“Alice” Yuxuan Han said life is very relaxed here.
“The American people are very friendly and I like school. I learned about American culture and some famous people, George Washington,” said Han.
Visiting Silver Dollar City was one of the best parts of “Fiona” Zeyu Xhang’s stay here.
“I love it. And the food here, french fries and ice cream, Ramen noodles and chicken wings,” Xhang said. “I love the class here, no homework. American history. And I made some friends.”
One of the activities “Mary” Xiaoqi Xu did at the Middle School was teach Chinese to American students.
“I liked the children and teaching Chinese. Teachers are helpful. The class is happy,” Xu said.
“Frank” Yufeng Xia, 16, enjoyed playing xylophone with the school band. He was one of the guys who visited Patsy Smith’s farm, riding horses, four-wheelers, and a tractor.
Sporting his new cowboy hat, “Eric” Guangxuan Xu has discovered he wants to be a cowboy.
“I want to live at ranch and raise horses and cows. Very fun,” he said.
The guys helped unload hay one a afternoon and even observed a cow that ate too much have its stomach pumped at the veterinarian’s office.
Every morning Judy Young told the boys when she dropped them off at school, “have fun, learn a lot. I’m leaving it to you to change the world.”
Six local host families recently bid farewell to a dozen Chinese students attending Tahlequah Middle School.
Six local families now have a connection to the Far East that will last a lifetime.
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