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Thanksgiving Dinner Celebration 2019

By Vukica Elenovska

On Sunday, November 17, The Beijing Center (TBC) held a Thanksgiving Dinner in honor of their service learning initiatives this semester and in celebration of giving thanks. The evening began with a reception in the cozy welcoming area at the Manmanhai restaurant in Beijing. The venue provided a warm and intimate environment that was enjoyed by everyone throughout the night. The dinner event brought together celebrated partnerships and friendships, along with the opportunity to recognize the unparalleled contribution organizations, such as Bethel China, make towards improving the lives of underprivileged and impaired children in China, with the support of partners and volunteers like TBC students and staff.    

Shortly after the reception, the dinner began with an introduction by two TBC students, Sophia Martinez (Marquette University) and Matt Kujawa (Loyola Marymount University), who gave a reflective introduction about the meaning behind the gathering and what TBC stands for.

After their introduction, Matt welcomed Xiaomeng Li, the Director of International Relations at UIBE, who began his speech with an expression of gratitude towards the growing partnership with TBC. Li addressed TBC students, hoping that their time in China will have contributed to their growth and accumulation of great memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. In relation to the students’ experience at TBC and UIBE, he said that the precious opportunity they have to be a part of the UIBE community is because of the international presence created, in large part, through TBC and UIBE’s union. Li ended his speech by addressing UIBE’s commitment to working towards internationalizing UIBE’s culture further into the future.

Following Li’s speech, TBC Executive Director, Dr. Simon Koo spoke to TBC’s goals of advancing Jesuit education and providing an international education filled with service learning opportunities. Koo concluded his commentary by introducing a video that demonstrated the service learning initiatives and activities that took place this semester.

After all the guests had a chance to watch the inspiring video, Matt and Sophia took to the stage to share their gratitude and explain what their semester at TBC means to them. Matt recounted how his first trip to China at age 10 left an impression on him that influenced his decision to continue learning Chinese and return during college. Meanwhile, Sophia talked about her family’s desire for her to have a better understanding of other cultures outside of the Mexican American culture she grew up with. They expressed what many students and TBC alumni feel after their unique experience in China. Along with the many aspects that come with studying abroad, they recognized that TBC’s foundation and values contribute to the individuality of TBC’s programs, making them more immersive and impactful.

Among the 100+ guests, TBC had the honor of having Bethel China’s development managers, Wendy and Aly, and children from their community, join the dinner. The night was made even more special with Bethel’s presence and support, especially, since both TBC and Bethel share a mutual commitment to service learning. In addition to their presence, the guests learned about how Bethel came to be. Wendy and Aly talked about the French couple that discovered their calling upon visiting orphanages and seeing how blind and malnourished children were not given the proper care they deserve – and soon after established Bethel. Thirteen years later, Bethel has helped over 500 orphans in China, and continues to provide opportunities for those committed to service learning to get involved and make a positive change.  

The Beijing Center’s Chairman of the Board, Fr. Mark Raper, followed Wendy and Aly’s inspiring talk by giving a warm thank you for this wonderful reunion between passionate individuals and organizations who continue working towards providing students with a quality international education. He gave his final remarks remembering last year’s event and expressed his eagerness for the great student performances to come.

After a delicious spread of cold and hot dishes, words of appreciation were exchanged and TBC’s Associate Director of International Education, Queenie He, beautifully sang a Chinese song with a gentle melody. Next, Andres Lenis (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali) and Katherine Liu, picked up the pace with a fiery salsa dance that livened up the atmosphere. Although it would have been hard to follow these performances, Liam Murray (Loyola University Maryland), impressed everyone by singing a witty original song about his experiences in China, followed by a comedy sketch by Hunter Verbeck (Xavier University) and Kale Kazyak (Marquette University) and a Wushu performance. As a nice finish, all TBC students came on stage, along with some faculty members, and sang a classic song – Don’t Stop Believing by Journey.

To close off this memorable evening, Fr. Stephen Chow shared an enlightening message influenced by the Jesuit spirit. He talked about the importance of companionship based on trust, hope, and affirmation – exemplified by everyone’s presence and support that night. He ended on a positive note, expressing gratitude and reminding the guests that those who are grateful are happy. His words perfectly emphasized the meaning of the event, adding to the values mentioned earlier about the importance of building international relations, providing students with a fulfilling educational experience through service learning, and always being grateful for that which we have.