By Martha Bowles
When you think of a normal high school experience, traveling to China probably does not come to mind. For a group of 10 students and faculty members from the Lee's Summit R7 School District, however, that is exactly what they did. The group, led by Dr. Sherri Lewis, Bernard Campbell Middle School Principal, included Summit Lakes Middle School Principal Dr. David Carlson, Summit Lakes Middle School History teacher Joe Hollingsworth, Lee's Summit West History teacher Nathan Parrish, Lee's Summit North History teacher Lauren Hollingsworth, Lee's Summit North Freshman Claire Neighbors, Lee's Summit West Sophomore Matt Bowles, Lee's Summit North Sophomore Christian Triplett, and Lee's Summit North Sophomore Mary Heine, and Lee's Summit High School Junior Alicia Reach.
After months of preparation getting US Passports, travel Visas, having planning meetings, purchasing electrical convertors for those important devices, and purchasing gifts for their host families such as Lee’s Summit made Belle’s Toffee they departed for China on March 7th. With an itinerary that contained 3 main Chinese destinations, Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai, in their hands, they were ready to begin their 12 day adventure.
The trip began with a short flight to Chicago followed by 13 and a half hours in the air as they made their way to Beijing with an areal view of the North Pole along the way. The group was able to spend several days in Beijing learning about China's rich culture and history. They toured a silk factory, visited an old neighborhood, and took a rickshaw ride around town. Among the interesting locations they were able to visit were the Forbidden City and Imperial Palace, a huge complex with multiple sections and thousands of rooms. In between stops, they enjoyed local dishes and some even came close to trying fried scorpion. As they moved through the city, their planned stop at Tiananmen Square changed due to large Communist Party meeting taking place inside with security measures put in place that were not unlike those that take place here in the US for major political events. The rest of the trip went as planned. There was a unique beauty in the contrast between the historic locations like the Summer Palace and the elaborate modern architecture of the city and structures from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. One of the highlights of the Beijing visit was their stop Great Wall of China, an amazing architectural achievement. By being able to walk along the wall, they could experience its immense size, both in length and height.
To get to their 2nd destination, the group took a 14 hour ride on a Soft Sleeper train. After traveling through farmlands and getting some much needed rest in their sleeper compartments, they arrive in Xi'an and were greeted by the smiling faces of the Chinese students and faculty that had visited Lee's Summit in January. This was the leg of the trip where the travelers got the privilege of staying with host families for 4 days. The Chinese families opened their homes to them and treated them like one of the family. They also attended the high school there for a short time to experience that part of the life of a Chinese teenager. School in China goes from 7am to 9pm, 6 days a week. Fortunately, the Lee's Summit visitors did not attend school for that many hours while they were there. They had the chance to explore the beautiful city of Xi'an and the local sites including the awe inspiring Terracotta Warriors while the Chinese students continued their studies. They saw the beautiful countryside, went in to the mountains, and visited an iced cave on the outskirts of Xi'an. At the end of this segment of the trip, everyone had a hard time saying goodbye, wishing they could stay longer but they left knowing they had made lifelong friends and a better understanding of another part of the world.
Dr. David Carlson, next year's trip coordinator, was impressed with both the Chinese and American students involved in the trip. He explained, "The greatest memory I have drawn from the China Exchange trip this year is the relationships with our sister school Chang'an High School No. 1. The Lee's Summit students were excellent ambassadors for our district. Each student connected with students and staff at the school in Xi'an, China and quickly found out they are kind of a big deal in China. Our students were celebrities in China as they were often requested for photos as special guests to the country. It was great to hear the stories about each student presenting to classes in the schools and providing a glimpse of what life is like in America to the students in China."
The final leg of their trip, Shanghai, offered a glimpse of another modern Chinese city. This highly westernized city offered the students a chance to discover some amazing modern architectural wonders. They traveled to the top of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the tallest TV tower in Asia and the third highest in the world. In the Space Module they enjoyed the sightseeing floor. Matt Bowles had no fear when it came to experiencing this unique opportunity. To him "it was fun stepping out over the city with a glass floor beneath you." To others it was a little unnerving to feel as though you were suspended above the city without a floor.
After all the tours and sites they saw, the common thread throughout the trip was the opportunity to meet new people and learn about a different culture. The Chinese people made it easy for the Lee's Summit group to feel comfortable and make new friends.
Dr. Sherri Lewis explained, "The students, parents and educators were very welcoming when we arrived in China. They were excited to share their homes, customs, educational system and culture with us. We all learned a great deal and made strong life-long friendships."
The R7 students agree that this was far more than a tourist experience. Christian Triplett stated, "My experience in China was life changing. My favorite part was attending the school, seeing my sister Yang Jinzhou and the wonderful culture. I can't wait to go back and visit my new family." Matt Bowles responded, "China was a very different experience from anything I have done before. It was new and exciting. I loved when we went to the Great Wall, saw the cities, travelled on the train, explored temples, witnessed archeology at the Terracotta Warriors site, and did some free climbing in the mountains with locals, but my favorite part was meeting new people, both from China and tourists from other countries, and building new friendships."
Dr. David Carlson summed up the trip by saying, "I learned that teenagers are not that different...regardless of what corner of the globe they are on."