Thursday, September 2, 2010
July 22nd, 2010 Parent Update
Today we had an action-packed day outdoors. We started our day with breakfast at 7:30 in the mountaineering training center’s cafeteria, where we served ourselves buffet-style from an assortment of traditional Chinese breakfast items: steamed vegetables, rolls stuffed with meat, mantou, hard boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, fried rice, congee or soup noodles. The transition to exclusively Chinese breakfasts has been a difficult one for a few of our campers, who grew accustomed to more selections, including more Western-style dishes, at the Yong’an Hotel. But being a training center for the nation’s athletes, the food at every meal is very nutritious and delicious.
In the morning, students were divided into two groups to rotate between two different activities. The first activity was a trust walk, where YingHua students were paired with their Dongdong roommate partners. One camper was blindfolded and was led by their partner, who could use their eyes and hand to guide, but could not speak. They proceeded in lines, under the guidance of the Dongdong and YingHua counselors and teachers, leading each other over and around obstacles. It was interesting to observe just how difficult it was for some students to trust their leaders, as well as how difficult it can be to lead another. Students also had an opportunity to consider different modes of communication that can occur between two people besides verbal communication. And finally, ultimately, it seemed to be a good bonding experience for our roommate pairs.
The second activity was rock-climbing instruction by the National Mountaineering Training Center guides. Your children had an opportunity to climb on a high training wall, right next to the national team that was training on an adjacent wall. The team has just returned from an international competition in Italy and is off again in a few days for competitions in Qingdao and Xi’ning. They were amazing to watch—members of both the women and men’s teams were climbing and bouldering, and their perseverance and determination were inspiring. These are some incredible athletes.
Your children are inspiring athletes as well. When I arrived on the scene after observing the start of the trust walk, I had just missed Benoit’s reportedly agile climb where he quickly ascended to the top. I watched a number of other campers bravely climb with muscle and determination, and was there to see Jessika be the first of this group to climb to the top, to the cheers of both our campers and the Chinese National Team who were watching during a water break. There was a great deal of camaraderie and support between YingHua and Dongdong students, and the presence of these national athletes made this an especially heightened experience.
After our lunch break, we assembled at 2:00 for a much-anticipated event: laser tag (called “CS” in China, meaning “counter strike”), complete with fatigues, hats, vests, and rifles. We played four rounds in nearly four hours and your children and their teachers had a blast playing in the wooded hills together. It was incredibly hot and humid, but this didn’t keep anyone from staying in the game. There was good sportsmanship all around, and the over-all spirit was one of playfulness and cooperation, despite the fact that we were all supplied with toy weapons. One themes of this week is how to work towards a more peaceful world by improving intercultural understanding and friendships. Though it may seem strange that a game of pretend war played with toy weapons might help us achieve such an outcome, there were valuable lessons learned about cooperation and intercultural play in this exercise. Pei Laoshi and Liao Liaoshi will be addressing some of these lessons in our closing ceremonies tomorrow.
We wrapped our evening up with a game modeled after the old American game show, the Newly Wed game. This is a new room mate game, called “I Know You,” where YingHua and Dongdong roommates were given a questionnaire to use to interview each other with in order to learn more about one another. Questions include things like, “What is your favorite dessert?” “If you could change your name, what would you name yourself?” and “What animal best describes you?” Students were then asked random selections from this list of questions in several rounds of elimination, with the goal of narrowing it down to the pair of roommates has come to know one another best. We had a delightful surprise: about half the pairs could answer all of the questions about one another! They had really taken the time to conduct these interviews and to learn more about one another.
Tonight is our final night in Huairou, and we are very proud of the way your children have handled the challenges of this week. They had grown very close to one another and accustomed to our living conditions and daily rituals in Beijing, and then they were suddenly asked to challenge themselves in ways that made them uncomfortable on multiple fronts. Discomfort often accompanies growth, and I think many of your children may have surprised themselves with how resilient and adaptable they really are, and how much they have learned in our first three weeks that they were able to apply in this very real cross-cultural and cross-linguistic setting.
I have also been struck this week in their increased aptitude functioning and connecting with others in a Mandarin-speaking environment. They were forced to rely on their Mandarin skills in many different situations this week and they are becoming increasingly effective in communicating. You might ask your child what this challenge was like for him or her. You might also ask what their biggest success was in communicating in Mandarin this week, and ask if their first impressions of the Dongdong kids changed at all after coming to know them throughout the week.
All the best from Huairou,