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Eager US students embark on China adventure

Exchanges: 'Things will last a lifetime for them'

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | | Updated: 2024-03-17 22:37
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Students from Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School in the United States wait on Saturday at San Francisco International Airport in California for their flight to take them on a cultural-exchange journey to China.

From indulging in Chinese cuisine and delving into the country's rich history and culture, to forging friendships and memories that may last a lifetime, a group of students from the United States are preparing to explore a whole new world as they set off for a journey to China.

"I really want to see how an average Chinese girl or boy lives their life. I also want to see architecture and historical buildings, because China has a rich culture and a long, significant history," said Montserrat Romero-Rocha, a 12th-grade student at Lincoln High School in the state of Washington.

She's also eager to understand everyday life in China, like trying Chinese food, shopping and finding out the differences between life in the US and China.

But what she's looking forward to the most, she said, is being able to interact with Chinese peers and observe how Chinese schools are run, compared with those in the US.

In September 2015, President Xi Jinping visited Lincoln High School, which is in Tacoma, Washington, during his first state visit to the US as president, and he invited young people from the US to visit China.

Romero-Rocha is one of 10 Lincoln High School students who will visit China. Along with 14 students from Steilacoom High School in Washington, they left for China from San Francisco on Saturday. The visit will take them to Beijing and to Hubei and Guangdong provinces before they return to the US on March 27.

Their itinerary promises an exciting chance for exploration across China's diverse landscape. The students will get a taste of both historical and contemporary China, visiting iconic landmarks like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City in Beijing and Wudang Mountain in Hubei, and engaging in academic exchanges at prestigious institutions like Peking University.

"I want to experience more about the culture and people, and how everything is different and similar to the US," said Luke Kelly, an 11th-grade student at Steilacoom High School.

For Kelly, who has never traveled outside of the US, this tour means "a once in a lifetime opportunity".

"I'm excited about being able to go and explore architecture. I'm excited about the Great Wall and Forbidden City," he said. Building connections with students in China is also a big reason he is excited about the journey.

"I hope we can bring back the relations and ... carry on and encourage other people to go and do the same," he added.

Song Guoxuan, China's deputy consul general in San Francisco, who saw the students off at San Francisco International Airport, expressed his hope that they will embrace the experience with open minds.

"Taste Chinese cuisine, make Chinese friends, and see a real China," Song encouraged them. He also emphasized the importance of sharing their experiences back home, fostering a spirit of friendship between the two nations.

This tour is part of a larger initiative. In November, President Xi and US President Joe Biden envisioned prioritizing cultural and people-to-people exchanges, particularly among young people. Xi said that China is going to invite 50,000 young people from the US to visit China on exchange and study programs over the next five years.

Lynn Eisenhauer, an arts facilitator who has led previous student trips to China, highlighted the transformative power of these exchanges.

"Every trip is different," she said, recounting how past student exchanges changed students' perspective and fostered deeper understanding.

One student was surprised to learn that his Chinese counterpart focused mostly on studying outside of school, and he came home with a changed perspective about his work ethic and became grateful for education.

"Most of them have never traveled out of the United States," Eisen­hauer said of the students. "They are going to feel all sorts of different things on this trip, and what I'm excited for is that the things will last a lifetime for them."

Romero-Rocha echoed that sentiment. "The tour is going to change me fundamentally as a person, because I'm going to an entirely new place and will experience an entirely new culture," she said. "And it's going to stick with me for the rest of my life."

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