Our Cross-Cultural Jam Session on the Xi’an Wall

Young & Global Slice of Life Logo Imagine knowing only one place your whole life, and then suddenly getting the opportunity to visit a whole new country. Well, I can sum it up for you in three words! IT’S LIFE CHANGING!!

Born and raised in New York City, I am used to diversity and being in different environments. But, in April of 2012, I was able to visit China with my school. Being in China was really fun. The culture was different, and the people weren’t quite used to diversity. My classmates and I were looked upon as outsiders, but in a friendly way. People wanted to take pictures with us, communicate with us, and some were even honored for us to take a picture with their child. I know somewhere out there I’m probably hanging up in someone’s living room as a reminder of that day they met a really cool American who was friendly.

Deja Smalls in XianEver since my trip, I haven’t been the same. I look at life differently because I am now grateful for what I have. Coming from a country where everyone is free and then visiting a country where everyone isn’t was an eye opener. It made me appreciate the freedom of education and religion that I have here. It also made me want to expand my knowledge of China in general.

My greatest experience there was being on Xi’an City Wall. We were given the opportunity to bike around the oldest wall in the city; it circles the whole old town and gives you a chance to see everything from above. We were the only Americans on the wall, being that Xi’an does not pop up on the list of places to go in China all that often. It was awesome to feel like we were interacting with the locals, as if the bike ride was our daily exercise.

After bike riding, we rested a while. We became anxious with the amount of free time we had, and being city kids, we really did not feel like riding around in the heat for a whole second lap. We decided to have a jam session. So, on top of the wall in the middle of China, we started making beats on the garbage cans and dancing and singing. The only phrases we knew in Chinese were “lei lei iche lei” and “ni hao”, which means “come here” and “hello.” We made a whole song with just those two phrases.

Deja Smalls in XianA crowd of people started circling us and clapping and smiling. Everyone started dancing with us; the young and the old, the locals and the foreigners. Literally, there were people from every continent dancing along with us. This one older man, Mr. Chow, wanted us to teach him our dance moves, and he danced along, happy as can be.

This was my favorite experience in China because this was the time we had to be ourselves, and the people welcomed us and were amazed with our talents. We learned new dance moves, and the other people learned ours. It did not matter what language each one of us spoke because we were all speaking the same language that day. I will never be afraid to step foot out of my comfort zone in a new country ever again. I learned the true meaning of “human” that day.

About the Author Deja Smalls is currently a Freshman, studying Biology at Ithaca College in New York. While a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy, Deja worked as a student banker for the Capital One program, and was a cheerleader, editor-in-chief for the yearbook, and an executive member of the National Honor Society, S.T.A.R.S., and the Kids n’ Culture program. She managed all of these responsibilities while still excelling academically, graduating third in her class. She traveled twice with the Kids ‘n Culture research program, completing projects in both Costa Rica and China.

Please click here to learn more about how the Kids ‘n Culture initiative at at Thurgood Marshall Academy is helping students like Deja Smalls achieve their global goals, and how you can make a difference with a contribution through Donors Choose.


  1. Toya Small-Scott says:

    This is an awesome article showing how experiencing new cultures show you how to appreciate your own culture. I was so enlighten reading this article. It show how you can adapt and learn without being able to communicate verbally. I can’t wait to see China for myself. I look forward to reading more articles published by Deja Smalls. I love to see the world through the eyes of our younger generation.

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