By J1 Reporter Olivia Sullivan
“POP!” The snapping sound of balloons popping filled the Collaboration Room of the third floor library. Girls were chasing each other in the game they were playing. The object of the game was to have the balloon tied to your ankle stay untouched, while popping the balloons of the other players. It was full of energy, and spectators cheered on the girls. Balloon popping was just one of the games played during the celebration of the Chinese Moon Festival hosted by the Mandarin I and II classes with the help of their teacher, Ms. Rachel Li.
Ms. Li is not only new to Marian this year, but to the United States as well.
“Two months,” Ms. Li said, on how long she has lived here, in Omaha. “I was visiting for a scholar program. I worked for the Confucius Institute in [the] University of Nebraska, Lincoln.” She also teaches Mandarin classes at UNO with a variety of ages, the youngest being only 5 years old.
When Ms. Li lived in China, she worked as an English teacher for 17 years. When asked about the switch, she said, “I think language… teaching language is similar. There are similarities between [the] languages.” She explained one of the greatest differences being the stage of learning in which her students are in. While she was in China, she taught high school students who already knew some English, but here she is teaching Mandarin to girls without any background knowledge.
Whether Ms. Li is teaching Mandarin to English-speaking students, or vice versa, she is full of passion.
“I learn it [English], because I love it,” she said. “That’s what I hope my students can do… I’m trying to arouse their interest first. Once they get interested… they can do well.” The success of the Moon Festival Celebration accomplishes this goal. On Wednesday, Sept, 26, both the Mandarin I and II classes hosted a celebration. Ms. Li said, “It’s a way for people to know about Chinese culture not only the culture of the old China, but the modern China.” Streamers and colorful posters on the walls decorated the Collaboration Room for the occasion. A spread of traditional foods and drinks, including moon cakes, dumplings, and tea filled one of the tables. Students and staff were both welcome to come and help commemorate the occasion.
“I thought it was really fun,” band teacher Mr. Paul Niedbalski said about attending. “It was really cool to get a sneak peek into the Chinese culture.” He also expressed that all the different foods looked good, but he is a “shamefully picky eater,” so he didn’t end up trying any of them. In addition to being present during the Moon Festival Celebration, he sits in during the Mandarin II class every day. Ms. Li is not a certified teacher in America, and there needs to be one in the room for liability reasons. Mr. Niedbalski mentioned that when he first knew he would sit in during a Mandarin class, he was excited at the prospect of learning some Mandarin, but given that he sits in during Mandarin II, he said he was too far behind to catch up to where the girls are.
During the celebration, the Mandarin students informed their audience of what the Moon Festival is and some typical activities that would take place during it, including drinking tea, eating moon cakes and watching the moon and stars.
Ms. Li said of the future, “I think in about 20 years, students with their families, or their children, on the full moon day, can go outside to watch the moon and they’ll ask their children to find out which is… the rabbit; the legend.” The students read stories, performed a poem in both Chinese and English and sang songs in Mandarin, with the help of Ms. Li.
“I love Mandarin II. We practiced an entire block doing those songs,” sophomore Tory Roubidoux said. Many games were played as well. In addition to the balloon popping game, there was a feather passing game much like musical chairs, musical chairs, and a competition among girls to see who could carry the most cheese puffs with chopsticks across the room.
Ms. Li spoke of the significance of the festival.
“The Moon Festival is for people to get together, and it’s a reunion day… A full moon in mid-autumn represents Harvest.” It can be compared to American Thanksgiving and celebrates the fall harvest. During the celebration, Ms. Li showed two video clips of her family in China saying “Happy Moon Festival!” in Mandarin, a phrase her students had previously taught the audience. Ms. Li expressed how this was her first time being away from her family for the Moon Festival. “I should have gone back home, but… [Instead] I celebrated with my other family here, my students.”