The past two weeks, I have been volunteering with a group in the Twin Cities called the Hospitality Center for Chinese.
My good friends Drew and Rachel first introduced me to the Center, and now I guess I'm pretty hooked and already feel a sense of duty. In fact, after about an hour of helping out at the furniture give-away for Chinese students, I was referred to as the "furniture diva." I don't write that because I think I'm awesome; I write it because I think they must be desperate for help if they are so quick to refer to me as a furniture diva. Fortunately for them, I am a sucker for flattery, words of affirmation, and feeling needed. So yeah, I'm hooked.
I have met about a dozen or so Chinese students already. Most of them seem fairly reserved and serious. I wish I could tear down their walls of skepticism, and let them know how much I can identify with their feelings of excitement and loneliness. But, I don't know how to express that to them, so I mostly just fish around for questions that I think might be interesting for them to answer. I'm pretty horrible at it, and would you believe that I ask some of the same questions that I hated in China. "Have you adjusted to the food?" "Where is your home-town?" "Where did you study?" and so on. So, as they are adjusting to a new place, culture, and identity as international students, I am also adjusting to a new role of befriending Chinese people while living in the States; it's clearly going to be a bit more difficult than it was in Hengyang. I don't have a supply of students here eager to chat about Twilight, dating, and other stuff.
It's been bothering me a bit, but I didn't realize it until today when I had a completely different experience. A student (we'll call her Bee) came in to pick out furniture. From the beginning, I could tell she was different and unusually comfortable even in this new environment. When I asked her about her host family, she bubbled over describing how wonderful they were and how cute their two daughters (adopted from China). And unlike a lot of the other students, she supplied lots of supplementary information about herself (really helpful since I'm off my game with asking questions). It took us only about 5 minutes to pick furniture because she was so content to get even the older, scuffed up furniture.
And perhaps the most bonding moment with Bee was when I was on the phone leaving a message to another student. I had wandered over to the desk area to get away from some chitter-chatter. Bee saw me near the printer that was spitting out copies, and with big eyes she quickly walked over to me and ushered me away from it: "It's not safe to stand near the printer," she explained to me as I was trying to leave a message on the phone. In that moment, I was so flooded with emotion, both slight annoyance and rosy nostalgia of friends who had done similar things with similar bizarre reasoning. And I was so distracted by it all that I lost track of the message I was leaving on the phone and just kind of hung up.
Maybe I am being overly optimistic about having a new friend in Bee. But, she did hang out at the center all morning, and she mentioned wanting to volunteer there. So yeah, I think it's very likely, that I might have a new, furniture diva friend.