Thursday, September 2, 2010

July 19th and 20th Parent Update: from Huairo

Greetings from Huairou,

Today’s update will be a bit condensed, as we have had a very busy few days wrapping up our first three weeks in Beijing and then moving our program about an hour north of the city, to the more rural location of Huairou. We are staying at China’s National Mountaineering Training Center (Guojia Dengshandui) until Friday morning, then returning to campus at the Yong’an Hotel in Beijing for Friday and Saturday evenings. If you need to reach us in Huairou in the event of emergency, you can call the Mountaineering Center itself at 6964-9501, ext. 100 or ext. 333 or call Dr. Jason Patent’s cell phone, which is a stateside number (1-505-17-1767).

Sunday was our last full day with our Chinese language teachers. We started our day Chinese final exams from 8:45 until about 10:00, followed by a shorter exam testing students on their knowledge from our leadership workshops. The students were focused during their tests and seemed satisfied with their test-taking experience after completion. They had a brief break after the exams before we gathered at 10:30 for our graduation ceremony. Amazingly, the teachers had all the exams graded and handed them out on the spot—such immediate gratification for teachers and students. The teachers said they were very pleased with how well your children did. There were some students who did not get high marks in the conventional sense, but had willingly remained at challenging class levels rather than move down a more comfortable class, and these students especially impressed us. I’m want to give special recognition to Haoran, Benoit, and Jessika for meeting the challenges of the C class even when they felt they were in over their heads.

We had a couple of special guests at our graduation ceremony: Liao Laoshi’s college physics professor, Dr. He, who is also chair of the board of the Yanjing Language Program; and Ms. Shen, the General Secretary of the Zhi Gong Party’s Beijing Committee. Our ceremony included speeches by our guests, expressing appreciation for your children’s efforts, speeches by Liao Laoshi and Wang Laoshi, expressing appreciation for your children’s efforts, speeches (in Chinese!) by Shannon and Benoit, expressing appreciation for your children’s and their teachers’ efforts. I also gave an impromptu speech, expressing my appreciation for you all, as parents, in sending your children on this adventure. I also expressed my hope that the next time they return to China it’s not to make their parents happy and driven by their parents’ reasons, but that this program has helped them develop their own interests in China. We concluded our graduation ceremony with performances by each class: skits, songs, martial arts forms, and morning exercise. Each student was also given three commemorative gifts from their teachers: a set of bookmarks, a set of pins, and a jade chop with his or her Chinese name carved in Chinese.

We walked to lunch—Peking duck and a huge assortment of dishes—at the Peace Harbor (Heping Haiguan) restaurant near campus. Yum. After all this sitting and feasting we were ready to move around a bit. So we walked en-masse to the Beijing Subway (Agricultural Center Station), about a ten minute walk from the Yong’an. Most of the campers have taken subways before, but still, there is nothing like riding the Beijing subway on a Sunday afternoon. We gave a serious talk about subway safety and the importance of sticking together and then we were off: four stops to our transfer point to the Number 10 line at Guomao, then seven more stops to our destination, Xidan. This was a true experiential learning opportunity for your children. I don’t think they will ever look at issues about China’s population growth or China’s development in the same way again. It is mind-boggling to consider how many people move on this impressive mass transit system every day. I am still on awe of the number of lines and stations currently in Beijing, and the fact that passengers now line up before boarding (not the case even as recently as five years ago!)

There is a huge bookstore at Xidan—an entire building actually—and the students had about an hour to browse with their small groups and look for Chinese language books to bring home with them. We then went to a market for some shopping, before dinner at a food court, followed by a return subway ride home (even more crowded then the ride there). The rest of the late evening was spent packing for our move to Huairou. Dr. Jason Patent (Pel Laoshi) who will be heading up the cross-cultural training portion of our program for our remaining week also joined us in the evening.

We arrived in Huairou around 11:00 Monday morning and were greeted by our partners who run the Dong Dong Summer Camp program for Chinese children and the guides from the National Mountaineering Training Center. This week the students will be putting into practice many of the language and leadership skills that they have been developing our first three weeks together. YingHua students and Dong Dong students room together, four students per room, and work together in teams doing a number of exercises and activities designed to help them learn more about cooperation, teamwork and leadership. We will also be doing debriefs after these exercises to help participants process their experiences.

The Chinese mountaineering guides who are working with us are enthusiastic young people who are really committed to fostering team-building and leadership skills in your children. The theme that ran through all the activities of the first day was communication, and the activities led by the guides have included: a puzzle contest which encouraged multiple small groups to communicate with one another; and a rope obstacle course, where teams had to move team members through openings in the net without touching the rope itself. Some of our YingHua students are older than most of the Dong Dong participants, so the challenges in communication were not only linguistic and cultural, but also related to mixed-age leadership. A few our students really shone in their leadership of these activities, including Vicky S. and Jessika whose Chinese language skills and patience with the younger participants helped greatly in creating a good group experience.

After dinner in the cafeteria, Pei Laoshi taught a lesson on the importance of communication in achieving the outcomes in today’s exercises and challenged the students to learn more about communicating, not just cross-linguistically, but cross-culturally. We concluded the evening with a large group reflection of our YingHua students and Chinese students.

Best from Huairou,


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