Meridian becomes more welcoming as nearby MSU sees international population grow

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Ying Beher and other members of the Greater Lansing Chinese Association start off the Chinese New Year celebration with a dragon fight.

Ying Beher and other members of the Greater Lansing Chinese Association start off the Chinese New Year celebration with a dragon fight.
Photo by Riley James.

By Riley James
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter

According to the Office for International Students and Scholars at Michigan State University, the percentage of MSU students from outside the United States has quintupled since 1950, when international students only made up 3 percent of the population.

In 2015, international students made up 15 percent of the university’s population with 7,568 attending school at MSU. This increase in population has led to surrounding communities like Meridian Township to host events so the international students feel more at home in mid-Michigan.

One of those events was Meridian Mall’s fourth annual Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 7. Many organizations, performers, and members of the community came together to celebrate one of the most important Chinese holidays.

“We bring [Chinese] fashion, culture, and history back to America,” said Ying Beher, the attorney of the Greater Lansing Chinese Association.

Annie Zhoa volunteering at the Okemos High School Asian Club booth.

Annie Zhoa volunteering at the Okemos High School Asian Club booth.
Photo by Riley James.

There are also many clubs and organizations that have booths set up at the celebration. Annie Zhoa, a member of the Okemos High School Asian Club, attended the Chinese New Year celebration for the second year with her club.

“Part of our booth is to help fundraise our club, and the other part of our booth is for kids to have fun,” said Zhoa. “It’s fun being able to talk with the younger children and see them have interest in origami, Chinese characters, and have fun coloring.”

According to Beher the festival has gotten bigger and gained more support ever year, and she thinks part of the population increase is due to the amount of international students that attend MSU.

The amount of Chinese students attending Michigan State University is 4,700, according to the 2015 Annual Report published by the Office for International Students and Scholars.

“There is so much support from the MSU students,” said Beher.

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According to James Dorsett, the director of the Office for International Students and Scholars, Chinese students come to MSU for majors in business, sciences, and engineering, and they stay because they feel at home in East Lansing.

Dorsett thinks the Chinese New Year celebration serves many purposes, one of those being that Chinese students feel at home during this cultural event.

“[The Chinese New Year celebration] is a nice opportunity for [Chinese students] to come together and go to an event that highlights their culture even though they are thousands of miles away from their home,” said Dorsett. “It helps show the local community some of the culture of China and how it is interesting and different.”

Everyone who is a part of the celebration starts preparing months in advance. The Greater Lansing Chinese Association holds fundraisers and advertises throughout the year. Once the event is near, Beher figures out their budget and what kind of performers they want for the celebration. After auditions, everyone continuously rehearses for the event.

“We use our personal and professional connections to try and promote this event,” said Beher.

Shannon Li, a musician who plays the erhu—a Chinese bowed-string instrument—for the Silk Road Chinese Orchestra, performed in the celebration. According to Li, the orchestra played a popular song in the Chinese culture that everyone knows and can sing along to. Li thought the Greater Lansing Chinese Association did a great job of portraying the Chinese New Year at the Meridian Mall.

Shannon Li playing an ehru with the Silk Road Chinese Orchestra.

Shannon Li playing an erhu with the Silk Road Chinese Orchestra.
Photo by Riley James.

“[The Chinese New Year] is the most important festival in China. Everybody has to go back home and has the day off,” said Li.

In between performances, there would be fashion shows on stage where models would wear clothes from different dynasties.

“[The models] have to have their own outfits brought from China,” said Beher. “It is a very fitting outfit, and it is never one size fits all.”

Each dress needs to be tailored to the specific body, and they are very expensive. Beher said the red dress she was wearing was $700.

Zhoa also thought the celebration was an accurate portrayal of the Chinese New Year, but there are still a few misconceptions since the event is being held in America.

“People think it’s all about the dragon, but it’s not because the zodiac changes,” said Zhoa.

According to Mike Jenkins, the communications director of the College of Arts and Letters at MSU, a lot of people came for the celebration the past two years he attended.

“[The Chinese New Year celebration] has wide support in the community, and it is growing,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins also helps set up events that focus on Chinese culture at MSU, including The MSU China ExperienceTaste of China, and Quilts of Southwest China.

 

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