Students, far from home, put topspin on big holiday

Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
Waco sophomore David Xiao plays table tennis against Changchun, China, sophomore Zi Mu Yang during the Chinese New Year celebration Saturday at the Waco Table Tennis Club behind the World Cup Cafe on 15th Street and Colcord Avenue.

By Caitlin Giddens

Traveling home for the holidays: It’s a common concept, especially for Baylor students. The trip is inconvenient at most, but not impossible. But when home is more than 8,000 miles away, there’s no returning for the holidays.

This is the struggle Chinese students face as the New Year, the largest celebration in their culture, draws closer.

In an effort to make Chinese students feel at home, World Cup Café welcomed international students to celebrate the New Year on Saturday afternoon. Foreign students carpooled to the café to play table tennis and share homemade dumplings, attempting to forget the distance from home for just one afternoon.

“The Chinese New Year is like Christmas back home,” Shanghai sophomore Lisa Lu said. “But we almost feel like we’re back home because there’s so many people gathered here.”

The Chinese New Year, which falls on Thursday this year, brings people together in the largest family reunion of the year in China. But between class schedules and travel expenses, returning home is not possible for most Baylor students from China.

Mission Waco, Calvary Baptist Church and Waco Chinese Church collaborated to host the New Year celebration. Next door to World Cup Café, the Waco Table Tennis Club opened its facilities for the students to play ping-pong, the most popular game in China. Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco and competitive ping-pong player, explained the significance of table tennis in Chinese culture.

“In China, children are given a ping-pong paddle before they’re given a pacifier,” Dorrell said with a laugh. “So this is the kind of stuff we love to do here. It’s a cross of cultures.”

Planning for the event began when business management professor Blaine McCormick saw his class roster in August.

“When I looked at my roster, I saw we had about 45 Chinese names,” McCormick said. “We wanted to do something for the students. And if you want to make connections with these students, you can make dumplings and play ping-pong with them. Ping-pong is serious business to them.”

After noticing the growing number of Chinese students, McCormick discussed the influx with Mission Waco board member Dennis Tang, a friend in his Sunday school class. Tang knew he wanted to create a sense of home for Chinese students during the New Year celebration.

“I hope students come to this event and feel like they’re at home,” Tang said. “We want students to know they have a voice and advocates in Waco. My wife and I are both first-generation international students, so we know how they feel.”

About 30 students attended the event, taking a break from the Penland cafeteria to enjoy a taste of home.

“This is the first time I’ve gone out with Chinese students I had never met before,” China sophomore Celia Yu said. “Other universities don’t have this kind of event. I’m definitely going to eat dumplings because it’s been a while.”

But the purpose of this event reached beyond enjoying a competitive game of table tennis or homemade dumplings. Beneath a cover of fun and recreation lay a greater mission, Christian hospitality.

“I’m hoping these students realize there’s more Chinese people in Waco and they care about them and understand them,” McCormick said. “I didn’t invite people here today to evangelize them. My goal is to show Christian hospitality, welcoming the strangers at our gates. And that is the true gospel.”

Tang explained the influx of Chinese Baylor students, saying the country has experienced a sudden growth in economy. By bringing Chinese students together, event sponsors hoped to convey that these students are more than welcome at Baylor.

“There are more and more middle class families in China,” Tang said. “We anticipate even more families will send their children to America for a college education soon, and we hope these students keep on moving to America.”