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Students celebrate Lunar New Year with Kidzu Children's Museum


On Saturday, Chapel Hill's Kidzu Children's Museum was decorated in red to celebrate the Lunar New Year.  

UNC's Chinese 441: Chinese-English Translation and Interpreting class and the Durham Academy Chinese Program collaborated with the museum to provide hongbao, the traditional red envelopes with gifts of money. Additional activities included dragon-making crafts, bilingual story times, zodiac coloring stations and a dumpling-wrapping activity using playdough for children.

The activities, drawn from Lunar New Year traditions, were intended to provide the kids new cultural experiences. 

This is the second year that Chinese 441 has collaborated to create a Lunar New Year event. Lini Polin, the class' professor, asks her students to complete service learning as part of their study. Throughout the semester, students work with different community organizations by translating brochures, signs, cultural information, policy-related documents and outreach materials into Chinese. 

“It is important that everyone has a chance to have access to different resources. Not only here, but in general,” Camille Alcaide, a sociology and Asian studies double major, said. “I think it's a great way to make people feel welcome and be able to understand and see their own culture reflected.”

By volunteering at Kidzu on Saturday, Alcaide was able to celebrate traditions she learned about in her studies and even participated in a dragon dance, a traditional performance in Chinese culture. 

Tanya Day, the museum’s education manager, said the dance was interactive and allowed the kids to come out of their shells.

The wǔ lóng, which translates to dragon dance, was led by Bonnie Wang, a UNC alumna and Chinese teacher at Durham Academy. Wang was assisted by nine parents and staff members, who paraded the creature around the museum and through University Place shopping center. Wang taught the adults tricks for guiding the dragon with bamboo poles, while children were given instruments to beat during the procession.

“I think I’ve seen [the dragon dance] so many times but I’ve never really been a part of it,” Polin said. “It's wonderful to see how excited the children were, and their parents too. You could definitely see that enthusiasm.”

Kidzu storyteller Wei Song said she is proud to share her culture with the kids, even though it sometimes makes her homesick. As a part-time volunteer, she said she loves coming into the museum twice a month to read storybooks in English and Mandarin.

Exposure to the Mandarin language and traditions helps kids cultivate their curiosity and open up to people who differ from them, Polin said. She also said it is particularly important to provide families with access to language learning services by reducing or eliminating fees. Kidzu, for instance, offers reduced fees for families on government assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Developing mutual understanding about each other is important at all education levels from childhood to the university level, Polin said.

In the aftermath of the shooting on UNC's campus last fall, Polin decided it would be important for her class to translate materials for UNC’s Counseling and Psychological Services in order to provide international students and scholars with mental health aid. 

“International students and scholars from China voiced their concerns about reduced access to campus resources due to limited English proficiency,” Polin said. "So I reached out to a number of campus organizations and asked if my students and I could collaborate with them."

In addition to networking for CAPS, Polin’s class provides resources to the Seymour Center for older adults, the Chapel Hill Public Library and UNC's International Student and Scholar Services. In past semesters, students from Chinese 441 made a crochet plum blossom to display for the older adults, a symbol of resilience and perseverance in Chinese culture.

The class has also hosted cultural events with Kidzu in the past and continues to, like a Chinese lantern festival, which will be on Feb. 24. With these interactive experiences, the museum tries to serve both Chinese and non-Chinese families in the community, Day said. 

"We've actually had parents of different cultures come up and individually, in-person thank our presenters and say 'This was so important to us,'" Day said. "Some of them come specifically for it, saying 'We feel seen, we feel appreciated, we're a part of this community.' And now we know that kids do value that," Day said


@dthlifestyle |

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