This article was originally published in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Nineteen enthusiastic grade 7 and 8 students participated in the annual middle school trip to China, where they spent time with their buddies at the World Foreign Language Middle School (WFLMS) in Shanghai.
Adding to the excitement of this year’s visit to Harker’s sister school in China, which ran from March 27 to April 7, was the addition of the grade 7 students, who joined the trip for the first time.
Originally based around the grade 8 computer science class’ global issues forum, the China trip this year also incorporated the grade 7 historical component of learning about ancient China. According to Harker’s global education department, including seventh graders on the trip proved to be such a success that it will be the norm going forward.
To be able to go on the China exchange trip was a dream come true for grade 7 student Raveena Panja, who said that in Shanghai, spending time with her WFLMS buddy Jasmine taught her a lot about Chinese family values.
“My favorite memory with Jasmine was when she took me to an outdoor night market. It was so pretty with all the night lights, and everyone I met was so sweet and welcoming. Beijing was also very beautiful, for it holds the historical and traditional side of China. The Great Wall was breathtaking! Traveling to China exposed me to a new culture, allowed me to make lifelong friends halfway across the world and made me realize I am a part of a bigger global community which is filled with wonderful people, regardless of where they are from,” recalled Panja.
Greg Lawson, assistant head of school for student affairs, headed this year’s trip, and was accompanied by three faculty chaperones. In addition, middle school computer science teacher Abigail Joseph preceded the group to spend some rewarding time working as an exchange teacher at WFLMS.
“I most enjoyed watching the students engage in round-table discussions with their buddies on various topics affecting youth, from homework loads and family rituals to United States-China relations. They were very interested in learning about and sharing with one another,” observed Joseph. “As a teacher it was really wonderful to see two different communities collide and sit down at the table to have real dialogues about personal matters. This made me know the future of dialogue and deliberation is in good hands,” she said.
Upon their arrival in China, the students were warmly welcomed at the Pudong International Airport by their pals from WFLMS. From there, they hopped on a bus for the short drive into the city to meet their host families.
“The variety of experiences that were extended by their host families gave them all a marvelous glimpse into life in Shanghai, and these were augmented by our further travels. The students also had a chance to make regional arts comparisons, attending both the Shanghai acrobats show and the Beijing ‘Legend of Kung Fu’ spectacle,” Lawson reported.
During their time at WFLMS, the Harker students enjoyed attending classes with their Chinese friends and taking part in special activities such as making dumplings and creating culturally-based art projects. In fact, Harker and WFLMS students grew so close that as their time together came to a close, there were numerous touching goodbyes, speeches, performances and heartfelt promises to stay in touch.
After spending time at WFLMS, the Harker contingent departed for the next phase of the trip, Beijing. Their first adventure in Beijing was a rickshaw tour of the Hutong, or ancient alleyways that once covered the city.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Great Wall of China. Taking a ski lift to the top of the mountain, they entered onto the wall. Many photos were taken of the renowned structure, and the students were thrilled to take a toboggan ride back down the side of the mountain.
Back in Beijing the students visited Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 protests and ensuing military action. Then they headed to the Forbidden City, where they were guided through several of its 980 palatial buildings.
After lunch, they went to Silk Street Market, a famous shopping center, where they had fun haggling with its many vendors. From there, they enjoyed a final outing to the Summer Palace, China’s largest imperial garden, where they rode a dragon boat to the palace’s pavilion.
The grade 7 and 8 students arrived back home in early April, feeling bonded and eager to share their trip experiences with friends, family and fellow middle-schoolers. And this year, the good news for grade 7 students is that they will have a chance to repeat the wonderful experience of the China trip all over again in grade 8!