By Alicia Constant
Patrick Henry College
Sarah Chaffee (r) in China
Ariana’s Children Memorial Scholarship recipients enjoy a summer of language immersion, adventure, and cultural conversations.
Sarah Chaffee’s love for the Chinese culture began her freshman year, when she taught English at a camp for Chinese kids. Three generations of her family have been involved in missions work in China, and the seeds they had planted began to take root in her own heart.
“I left [camp] with a desire not to just teach them my language, but to learn theirs,” she said. She began taking Mandarin classes online to fulfill her language requirement, but she hoped to find a way to practice Chinese among native speakers.
The Ariana’s Children Memorial Scholarship, a newly-created fellowship for international study funded by PHC alumni, made that desire possible.
The scholarship was formed to commemorate five young Afghans – Nawab, Eeza, Parwana, Khorshid, and Assad – who were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul in 2012.
“Solving the tenacious problems that lead to this kind of tragedy requires an atypical, comprehensive approach that we believe is fostered in international programs,” said John Curry, a 2009 graduate who founded the program along with several other alumni. “It’s hard to describe how fulfilling it is to open Dostoyevsky and realize, ‘I’ve watched a sunset from the spot in Moscow he’s describing’ or study Calvin’s Institutes and say ‘I’ve worshiped in his church’ or write an exam question on economics in Central Asia and incorporate perspectives from conversations you’ve had with Kyrgyz women forming small businesses on the outskirts of Bishkek.”
This year marked the first year that the scholarship was awarded to two recipients.
Chaffee, a senior Government major with an emphasis in international relations, spent over a month in China, participating in an intense language tutoring and immersion program, while junior Briahna Howells is wrapping up a summer of Arabic study in Jordan.
Unlike her freshman year trip, Chaffee lived with a Chinese host family, used Mandarin daily, and formed deeper relationships. Her host parents, the Rens, both did not speak English, though their English-speaking daughter was home on summer break from college in California. Both parents had attended art school and owned a business framing artwork and photos.
“Every morning we had breakfast together, which isn’t like breakfast in the U.S. It’s usually dòujiâng: hot bowls of soybean milk and whatever vegetables they’d cooked up the night before, and fruit—and always a boiled egg,” she said.
Chaffee spent about 11 hours per week in tutoring sessions with Evergreen, a Christian public benefit organization in Taiyuan, Shanxi. Her two main tutors, Annie and Sharon, taught her grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, basic character writing, and religious Chinese. Outside of class, she studied intensely.
“Learning Chinese is not like learning Spanish or French: you learn not just phonetics, but the character and the tones. With a language like Spanish, all you have to think about is your original language and the Spanish translation. With Chinese, you’re thinking about your original language, the Chinese translation, the tones, and the characters.” Thus, when her teachers expected her to conversationally master 15 characters after two hours of instruction, “that’s actually a really big deal.”
Her language learning also gave her a deeper understanding of how to reach the Chinese culture for Christ. “Because the Chinese people believe that man is basically good, even the words that mean ‘sinful person’ would be offensive to them,” Chaffee said. “If you say to them, ‘You are a sinful person,’ they would say, ‘I’m not a criminal.’”
International travel is also crucial to understanding and loving people from other cultural backgrounds, Curry said: “For any PHC student studying international issues, travel provides an opportunity to learn what it means to ‘love their neighbors as themselves’ on an international scale, then bring that experience back to Purcellville, or wherever their calling takes them.”
Chaffee had the opportunity to make weekly visits to a local government-run orphanage to play with and offer love to the children there, an experience that she said was “overwhelming at first.” Because of China’s one-child policy and other barriers to adoption, most orphans do not have a chance at being adopted. “A lot of them had muscle atrophy, so we did a lot of basic stretches with them… also, it was just giving the kids one on one attention,” she said. “There is definitely a need, but they are so bright and so open to being loved.”
Learning Arabic in Jordan
Briahna Howells’ voice, choppy over Skype, mingles with the chatter of voices and the ambient sounds of Starbucks. Except the voices are speaking both English and Arabic, and the Starbucks is in Amman, Jordan. As the second Ariana award recipient, Howells is spending the summer in an Arabic immersion program in Jordan.
Bre Howells in Jordan
“It’s been amazing to meet people from all over the world studying Arabic in Jordan,” she said. “I feel like it’s really humbling to try and learn another language because you’re basically a second grade level or below, trying to communicate with people who have been speaking it all their lives.”
She has visited the Jordan River, the Red Sea, Petra, and a number of other landmarks around the country. One of her favorite adventures was staying with Bedouins in the desert, watching the sunset and sleeping under millions of stars, far from the lights and pollution of the city.
Howells and her roommate decided to fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, both to see what it was like and to show respect for the Jordanian culture. During Ramadan, Amman’s entire schedule becomes nocturnal. From 4:00 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., everybody fasts and catches a few hours of sleep. At around 7:45 p.m., Howells would eat for the first time that day, stay up until about 4:00 a.m. hanging out with friends, and then catch a few hours of sleep, go to class, sleep some more, and repeat the cycle the next day.
“Fasting for Ramadan is supposed to be a cleansing experience, a time to pray and grow closer to God. These are similar reasons to the reasons why Christians fast,” she said. “It’s an amazing moment when you can sit down and eat for the first time that day.”
She developed a love for Arabic foods, such as kabobs, pita bread with hummus, cheese with grain drenched in honey, mango juice, meat cooked in yogurt, and very strong black coffee.
Other aspects of Jordanian culture have required more getting used to: “There’s a lot of segregation among men and women, a lot of do’s and don’ts. We take taxis to get everywhere, and women should not sit in the front seat of the taxi, and there’s a lot more rules and more waiting.”
When she returns from Jordan later this month, Howells plans to take a year off to continue her Arabic studies at home and spend time with her family. She hopes to graduate with her degree in Strategic Intelligence in 2015.
“Lack of funding was one of the showstoppers. It’s expensive, and it would be coming out of my own pocket because the [study abroad program] was not through PHC,” Howells said. “I was very thankful for [Ariana’s children scholarship] because I would not have been able to come to Jordan otherwise.”
“This year’s scholarship was a proof of concept effort in many ways. We needed to ensure that the process itself was feasible, and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with individuals like Tom Ziemnick and Chris Guenard and their offices at PHC. They were incredibly supportive of the idea from its earliest stages, and it would not have been a reality without their guidance,” Curry said. “I would love to see the Ariana Scholarship grow to a place where it supports as many PHC students as possible.”