On the other side of the planet, they find another world

Updated: 2011-07-28 08:02

By Guo Shuhan (China Daily)

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 On the other side of the planet, they find another world

Students from the United States learn kungfu during their stay in China. Provided to China Daily

American Mark Watson is discovering a very different China from the one his grandfather experienced as a US naval officer in the late 1950s.

The 16-year-old Magnet High School student from South Carolina says he relishes the "wonderful" experience of embracing China's "fascinating" culture, during his first trip outside of his homeland.

Watson's 15-day journey is being undertaken as a member of the Student Ambassador Program, organized by educational travel provider People to People, founded by former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. The program, co-organized by China Youth Travel Service, has brought more than 1,000 American students, most of whom are ages 11 to 18, to China a year over the past decade.

Watson and 41 other students are touring six cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. They have been riding rickshaws through Beijing's hutong, visiting the Terracotta Warriors in Shaanxi's provincial capital Xi'an and marveling at Kunqu Opera's costumes and music. They also study Chinese calligraphy in Yipu Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jiangsu province's Suzhou city.

In addition to seeing such landscapes as the Great Wall and countryside, and watching pandas at the zoo, Watson believes the trip has enabled him and locals to better understand each other.

This dimension of the adventure has been particularly enlightening for 17-year-old Casey Adams.

"I first thought maybe Chinese people don't like us," says the high school student from Virginia.

"I don't know why. It's just a kind of perception that they don't like Americans. But people here are so friendly and want to take pictures with us. It's so great!"

The teenager says her stepmother was worried about her taking the trip.

Adams says she will explain China's realities to her stepmother and other Americans who have negative perceptions about the country.

"Maybe we can change their minds," she says.

"And maybe we can also ask them to come to China in person."

Volunteer team leader Cindy Enroughty says many American families have voiced reluctance to let their children visit China since she started working for the program five years ago.

But fewer voice concern now, and many parents cherish the "once-in-a-lifetime chance".

One boy's mother, who works as a hairdresser, took extra shifts and sold possessions on eBay to fund the $5,000 opportunity for her son, Enroughty says.

"Hopefully, after the trip, these students will take into account that (Chinese and Americans) are all the same," Enroughty says.

"Our hair and skin colors are different, but inside we are all the same. And when (these students) go back, they're going to tell their friends how wonderful Chinese people are," she continues.

"That's how they go along the way toward helping promote world peace."

China Daily


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