Over spring break, 18 middle grades students and four Avenues teachers hopped on a plane to China. We began the trip in the big city metropolis of Shanghai where students overcame jet lag and began to acclimate to the Chinese culture and food. After a few days of exploring Shanghai, students were ready to tackle their next big adventure.
Students took a short flight to Guilin where they no longer lived with familiar friends but instead with homestay families. These homestay families nurtured and cared for our students like they were their own. They showed them all the local sights and shared their family’s culture by including them in their meals and daily routines. At first, many students were nervous about living in the homes of strangers and speaking only Chinese. However, over the course of their time together the students formed strong bonds with their homestay buddies and families. The homestay experience encouraged true cross-cultural exchanges in which our students shared stories about their lives in the big American city of New York and their homestay families shared their experiences living in a small Chinese city.
Making dumplings with host family members in Guilin.
Picking tea leaves with host family members in Guilin.
In the mornings, students took intensive language classes that introduced new vocabulary to use in their afternoon activities or in their homestays. In the afternoons, the students engaged in activities designed to help them learn about Chinese culture and explore the local environment such as hiking, cruising down the Li River, taking a tai chi class and visiting a 1000-year-old village. These experiences naturally helped students to practice their Chinese while learning more about the local culture and thinking about the factors that contributed to the country’s development.
Hiking in Guilin.
Sights from the boat cruise down the Li River to Yangshuo.
Exploring the 1,000-year-old town of Daxu.
On our last days in China, the students reflected on their journey. In their reflections, they noticed how different the Chinese culture was from their own, but also the many ways in which the two are similar. The students thought about the impact the trip had on them and the impact they had on the local community. They felt mixed emotions as they looked back on their trip and prepared to return home. There were feelings of sadness to leave such a beautiful country, happiness to return home to their families, gratitude for having such lovely host families and accomplishment at having braved uncomfortable situations. This was truly an unforgettable experience and we hope the relationships and bonds that were formed will last for years to come.
The view from a mountaintop in Guilin.
Taking a tai chi class with Master Zhong in Guilin.
Enjoying dinner with new friends.