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Bringing in the Year of the Rat: Exchange students celebrate Chinese New Year

By Staff | Jan 31, 2020

Shepherd University students practice the dragon parade, which is one of the feature events of every Chinese New Year celebration. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — A crimson dragon parade could be seen, as it snaked through Storer Ballroom on Friday night, during Shepherd University’s first Chinese New Year celebration.

The body of the dragon was supported by wood sticks, which were held up by students from Shepherd University. At the helm of the parade was Chinese exchange student Pang Honghui, who is currently finishing his senior year as a business major.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done a Chinese New Year event at Shepherd,” Honghui said, as guests started trickling into the room. “A lot of people are curious about Chinese culture. My friends often ask me what Chinese culture or Chinese politics are like.”

Honghui has grown so used to these questions, he decided to give a presentation on the Chinese New Year at the event.

“I hope more people will understand what the meaning of what celebrating the Chinese New Year is,” Honghui said about his presentation.

From left, Chinese exchange student Pang Honghui, senior business major; Taiwanese exchange student Nian-Sin Chen, pre-nursing major; Taiwanese exchange student Szu-pin Wang, pre-nursing major; Taiwanese exchange student Yu-Wei Tzeng, MBA student; and You Hsin Hnang, nursing RN-to-BSN major, were the exchange students who organized the event. Tabitha Johnston

While the Chinese New Year is not just celebrated in China — throughout Asia, the holiday is celebrated. Four Taiwanese exchange students decided to help out with the celebration, by cooking traditional food for the celebration attendees to taste.

“We began cooking the chicken soup yesterday,” said pre-nursing student Szu-pin Wang. “We cooked everything else today. The pineapple cake is traditional — it is the most popular thing in Taiwan. The chicken dumplings are part of the menu, because they are shaped like money, so it talks about success and represents a similarity with the red envelopes.”

Red envelopes, which contain money and are traditionally given by older family members to younger family members, were given to all of the celebration attendees, as a memento from the experience. According to Taiwanese exchange student You Hsin Hnang, the red envelope tradition is her favorite part of the Chinese New Year.

“In my childhood, the Chinese New Year is special because we can get a lot of red envelopes from our family,” Hnang said. “We also get to spend time with our cousins, because maybe we will only see each other that one time a year. So we’ll play and eat and sing together.”

One of the community attendees of the event was Shepherd Village resident Mary O’Hara. Over the summer, O’Hara had been a host mother for Wang, and had also helped out Wang’s finance, MBA student Yu-Wei Tzeng.

Shepherd University graduate assistant Fadela Belhaj, right, and Director of International Affairs Lois Jarman greet community members, as theysign in and pick up red envelopes at the Chinese New Year celebration on Friday night. Tabitha Johnston

“I just wanted to come and support them. They’re doing this for us, because most of us have never seen the Chinese New Year celebration,” O’Hara said, mentioning she still feels like a mother figure to Wang, and so she brought a red envelope to give to Wang at the celebration.

O’Hara’s surprise did not go unappreciated.

“Red envelopes may be the best part of the new year,” Wang said, smiling.

A second Chinese New Year celebration will be held on Feb. 7 from 6-8 p.m. in the Erma Ora Byrd Hall atrium. The event will include a lion dance, food sampling, silent auction and talk by David Gordon, professor of history, who spent the fall semester in southern Taiwan teaching at Nanhua University, which has an exchange agreement with Shepherd University.