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A new world opens up with bias left at the door

Trip gives US students chance to get true experience and ideas about China

By LINDA DENG in Tacoma, Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-15 09:09

Chinese students teach a high school student from the US state of Washington how to play guqin, a classical Chinese instrument, at Peking University, in Beijing on March 20. YIN GANG/XINHUA

"I think that's how my mind has changed … by leaving preconceived notions, leaving biases at the door," says Isaiah Long, a student from the United States who visited China recently.

"Going in head first and getting true experiences and opinions", is the way to go, said Long, an 11th grader at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington state.

Long made his remarks after returning from an 11-day trip from March 17 to March 27 to China with 23 other high school students. They visited Beijing, Shiyan in Hubei province and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

"When I had any biases or preconceived notions about China out of the way, it allowed me to experience China better," Long said. "The best way to experience the country and learn knowledge about a country is going to the country itself and meeting the people."

In November President Xi Jinping announced that China would invite 50,000 young people from the United States to visit over the next five years.

All 24 students, 10 from Lincoln High School and 14 from nearby Steilacoom High School, were visiting China for the first time.

In Beijing they visited landmarks such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as well as venues that hosted the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Winter Olympics in 2022.

The students also visited the campuses of several Chinese schools, including Tsinghua University High School and Capital University of Physical Education and Sports, both in Beijing, and Shenzhen Nanshan Foreign Language Senior High School in Shenzhen.

"I like China and I think it's very beautiful," said Annaliese Colbaugh, an 11th grader at Lincoln High School. "I loved seeing all the landmarks and … the people are really welcoming and kind."

Colbaugh said her grandfather had thought it would be unsafe for her to go to China.

"I did hear some negative stuff while I was here (at home), but I went there and it opened my eyes …After I came back then I just …explained to him about the whole trip and about how it's probably one of the safest places I've been to.… It really changed his perspective on China."

Her favorite part of the trip, she said, was visiting the schools and seeing how they are run. She still talks to a lot of her friends in China on WeChat, she said.

"I definitely probably would go to China again with my family. I told (them) it was such a good place, and I would love to go back there. But it would be with them."

'Like home'

Jersey Jefferson, an 11th grader at Lincoln High School, said her stay in Beijing was "like home".

"The weather was more like Washington, so it didn't feel like I was really far, far away from home. Everyone was super kind, and I felt accepted out there, so I definitely enjoyed myself."

Jefferson said her favorite place was the Capital University of Physical Education and Sports in Beijing, where the US student delegation was welcomed with a lion dance and wushu performance. She also enjoyed the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, she said, saying it was like "walking on history".

"I never thought I would ever get to walk on the Great Wall.… I was, I would assume, one of the first people in my family to go to China. My grandmother was really excited. She wants to see all the pictures, she wants to hear all the things, she wants to see all the gifts."

Since her return she has encouraged many of her school friends to follow in her footsteps, she said.

Montserrat Romero-Rocha, a 12th-grade student at Lincoln High School, said: "We got so many unique opportunities, and it's just amazing.… It has changed my life."

It was her first time in China, but her older sister Abranna, who was also a student at Lincoln High School, was one of more than 100 students and teachers invited to China after Xi visited the school during his first state visit to the US as Chinese president in 2015.

"I think the trip to China (in 2016) really influenced her. Ever since then, she's been exploring the world. China was her first avenue to see that. She was influenced and has continued to be influenced to go and see other places."

Abranna Romero-Rocha now works in Spokane as a college adviser and recently started law school.

The younger sister said one of her favorite parts of her own China trip was being involved in everyday school life, and she told her family and friends about her more than five hours of interactions with Chinese peers at Shenzhen Nanshan Foreign Language Senior High School.

The school was the last stop before the delegation left China. Activities the US students and their Chinese peers took part in included painting, dancing, singing and volleyball.

" (The Shenzhen visit) had a lot of impact on me because it was the last group of people that I was able to interact with before I left (China)," Montserrat Romero-Rocha said. "Everybody was just so sweet and kind and nice. And I have friends now from different schools that I talk to and keep up with."

She wants to return to China and stay at least six months or a year, she said.

Karl Hoseth, principal of Lincoln High School, said: "To see them interact in a positive way with the students in China was just really heartwarming. It was such a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'm really hopeful for this type of thing in terms of how it can impact future generations."

Huge help

Hoseth was at a banquet in San Francisco in November when Xi announced the initiative to have 50,000 US students visit China.

"That was a huge help," Hoseth said. "I heard it in the audience and I thought that seems like that would be a great opportunity for our students at Lincoln. But I didn't have any idea that we would be among the very first to go and then have some more opportunities to send students here in the next several months."

From 2016 to 2019 three trips were made from Lincoln High School to China.

"Then it went on pause for a while when the pandemic occurred, and so I'm just so grateful that we are now able to do it again and thankful for this initiative and those who have really helped us make this happen for our students," Hoseth said.

He would encourage people to visit China, he said, and thinks being exposed to different cultures, countries, ways of life and histories is invaluable.

"As a school, one of the things that I'm really excited about is that there is this long-standing connection between China and Lincoln High School, and in particular with President Xi, who visited in 2015.

"And so with that, there have been a number of groups that have wanted to help support having some of our students go back to China. So there is a possibility coming up in the summer where we'll be able to send some students to China again."

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