The second part of this year’s exchange with the Shanghai World Foreign Language Academy kicked off in late March. Thirteen middle school students – accompanied by global education director Jennifer Walrod, lower school English teacher Kate Shanahan and technical theater teacher Paul Vallerga – traveled to China to visit with their SWFLA buddies and experience some of the country’s rich history, culture and geographic landmarks.
Upon arriving on March 28, the Harker students met up with their SWFLA buddies and families who would be their homestays for the following few days. The students received a very warm welcome on their first day at SWFLA, where they were treated to a flag raising ceremony and introduced themselves to the school in Mandarin. “Apparently … on our drive back from the airport, the SWFLA buddies were busy teaching our kids how to introduce themselves in Mandarin,” said Walrod. Later, the Harker students attended a class on Shanghai history and participated in an art class. The students spent the afternoon learning how to make dumplings and spring rolls,” Walrod said. “Luckily, they did a good job as that is what we ate for dinner.”
Harker students embarked on a field trip the next day to the town of Zhujiajiao, often called the “Venice of China” because of its large network of canals. The visit started with a boat ride to the Fangsheng Bridge. “Once we arrived, everyone bought bags of fish and turtles to set free in order to give them a second life,” said Erica Cai, grade 7. “We then strolled down the many streets and shops of Zhujiajiao, bargaining with the merchants there. All of the vendors were kind and willing to lower prices for us.”
April 1 was the final day for Harker students to spend time on campus with their SWFLA buddies. The day started with morning exercises and a martial arts class, followed by a class on Tibetan-style dance. In music class, the students learned about movements from the Peking opera and Chinese instruments such as the pipa and guzheng. At the end of the day, the Harker guests were treated to a farewell ceremony that included performances by both Harker and SWFLA students.
Harker students spent the next few days with their homestays before departing for Beijing on April 5. Their first stop in China’s massive capital city was the Temple of Heaven, where they learned of the temple’s history as a symbol of the relationship between heaven and earth. After a brief tai chi lesson on the temple grounds, the group headed for the Hutongs, a network of narrow streets and alleyways, where they visited a traditional home known as a “siheyuan,” which consists of a group of small dwellings situated around a courtyard. They also whipped through the alleyways on rickshaws, which Saumi Mehta, grade 7, described as “less bumpy than expected, but fast!”
The next day in Beijing started with a stroll through Tiananmen Square, where they learned about the Monument to People’s Heroes and the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao. Later, they visited the Forbidden City, one of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which contains 9,000 rooms in 800 buildings. They later visited the Summer Palace, China’s largest imperial garden, which features a corridor that stretches for more than 700 meters.
The students’ final day in China was a full one, starting with a trip to the Spirit Walkway of the Ming Tombs, which serves as the resting place for 13 Chinese emperors. “We wandered down the pathway, taking numerous photos of opposing pairs of animal and human statues lining the way,” said Walrod. Later, the group headed to the Great Wall of China, walking along the world-famous fortification, taking photos and marveling at the massive structure. “As we descended from the wall, we basked in the fact that we had just seen one of the wonders of the world!” recalled Emma Andrews, grade 8.
At dinner that evening, the students enjoyed Peking duck while viewing a shadow puppet show, and went shopping one last time before leaving the next day.