International Emerging Leaders Program

at Collegiate School

Learning about Business in China

Reflection by Dalton R

On our first day in Shanghai, we visited WestRock, a packaging business with presences in Richmond and in Shanghai. We heard a presentation about how the company operates, and how their business differs in the Asian market. I found that this opportunity was incredibly educational and valuable. In the past, I have studied economics both inside and outside the classroom, and I plan to major in the subject at the university level. However, I had never had the opportunity before to truly study economics or business outside the United States. In WestRock’s presentation, we learned how the Chinese market was different, and how the Chinese economy has acted in recent years. We discussed how the Chinese economy is currently undergoing a change. Previously, much of the Chinese GOP was created by government spending on infrastructure and manufacturing, in an effort to propel China to the top of the world economy. However, now, with China’s economy now a world power, the country’s economy is transforming into a consumer economy, where domestic consumer products will drive the country’s GOP. It was fascinating to learn about this change, and to see how a business was adapting to changing times.

The purpose of our trip to China was to learn about the relationships between the United States and China. Our visit to WestRock in the beginning of the trip acted as a building block for the educational opportunities throughout the rest of our visit. Whether driving through Shanghai, observing a class, or walking through a Chinese market, I was able to connect what we learned about the Chinese business and their economy. 

Reflections on the Homestay Experience in Yangzhou

By Kirby K

Going into this trip, I was quite hesitant about the homestay experience. I have heard all of my life about how different daily life is in China and I knew that I would be put out of my comfort zone. As soon as I walked in the door of my host family’s apartment, I was given slippers to wear instead of shoes. Dinner consisted of traditional foods such as pork, eggs, rice, and fish soup. The dinner went on without a hitch, except for when I managed to spill the fish soup on my lap. My chopstick skills were still developing.

The following week with my host family were beyond eye-opening. I was constantly learning about new traditions common in Chinese households. Hospitality is extremely important in Chinese homes – I was given gifts and a large meal prepared by my host mother as soon as I arrived every night. Even though neither of my host parents spoke any English, their smiles alone made me feel welcome.

There is no doubt that I was out of my comfort zone for much of my stay at the house but I am very grateful for this. If we had, for instance, stayed in a hotel, we would have constantly been surrounded by fellow Americans. Being entirely secluded from the people and customs that we are used to made us appreciate where we were and what we were learning much more.


Kirby and the students he hosted in Richmond and was hosted by in Yangzhou. The reciprocal exchange strengthens both the connections between the students and the insight for all involved.

Reflection by Mackenzie M.

My host family and Miranda was very nice and made me feel at home even though their was a language barrier with her parents. The first night, I walked into a beautiful apartment and I was shown to my room for the week. I soon learned that the room I was staying in was Miranda’s room. I assumed she would be sleeping with me but she told me right away that she would sleep with her mother so I could have my own room, which was so generous of them. Once settled in, I went to eat dinner with her family including her aunt who had come over to make me a special tradition Chinese home cooked meal, and I was shocked by the amount of food that was placed on the table. I learned that in China, families make multiple dishes and eat large portions three times a day. Miranda never snacked or ate unless we were all sitting down or it was a planned meal. I enjoyed the meals with Miranda’s family, and they even bought me dumplings in a bag  for breakfast and they were delicious. 

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Student Reflections – Learning in China

Reflection by Margaret D.

China. Although a small word, there’s thousands of years of history, culture, and people behind it. To attempt to tackle the simple basis of what China stands for without witnessing the country itself first hand is an almost impossible task. So what can you do to prepare a strong yet open idea about what China is before you visit? In our IEL Asia class, 14 of us attempted to take on the concepts of China before visiting to give us a bank of knowledge for us to pull from in the countless foreign moments we were guaranteed to encounter. We read articles, did projects, and watch short films. We spent several classes discussing international relations and how to apply yourself in intellectual situations where you do not know the language or culture. We invited guest scholars into our classroom and even hosted a week conference with 12 Chinese students from our partner school. We talked about proper customs and how to behave properly in their completely different society. Our research was extensive and our preparation seemed complete.

However, regardless of how much we read, watch, and talked about, in a greater scheme, we weren’t prepared at all. Yes, we knew how to say hello in Chinese and to not drink the water but being placed in a culture completely different from your own, regardless of what you know about it, is a complete shock. One of the most notable differences we learned about in class between China and America is the two types of opposing governmental systems. While America is based off of ideals of freedom and the individual rights of democracy, China has a more regulated communist system that monitors which types of information the public can see. This means that many social media apps and websites are blocked. While we spent several class periods talking about the communist government, it wasn’t as prevalent as expected while in China. The whole world is educated about a government that you might not really experience while in China, which has a much more open and capitalist economy in the day to life than I expected. Overall, learning about China in a classroom and learning about China from first hand experience is liking learning about two different countries. Only when you combine what you’ve learned from each will you be able to piece together an understanding of the complexity of China.

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Reflection by Alex P.

For me China was the land of the unknown. For years I had been interested in Asian culture and history. Learning about the rise and fall of dynasties in Ancient China as an elementary schooler made me become obsessed with Chinese culture, and Asian culture as a whole, so when the opportunity came up to visit China I knew I had to take it.

Preparing for the trip to China was a lot different than I expected. I thought we would learn about the history of China, and a lot about ancient China, but instead we focused more on the recent history, and about the rise of China as an economic superpower.

When people ask me about China the first thing I tell them is it’s a place you will not understand until you go there. I thought I had a good understanding of China going into the trip, but when I landed and got off the plane I realized I knew nothing. There are a couple of things that caught me off guard about China. One thing was the government. Although the Government is a communist one party system, daily life is more complicated than that, especially in economics. The next thing I was surprised about was the overwhelming amount of safety I felt. I did not feel unsafe or worried at all the whole time I was on the trip. It seemed everywhere I turned there were police. The third thing that caught me off guard was the amount of growth, and by growth I mean housing developments, and business.

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The Journey Home from China

After a night of celebration and community – Chinese style with hot pot, juice toasts, and KTV (karaoke) – we began the long journey home in the early morning. The distance and time it takes to travel home feel appropriate for the vast differences between our lives in Yangzhou and Richmond, and yet also seem removed from the closeness of our friendships on the other side of the world. Stay tuned for student reflections over the next week.


American-Chinese Collaboration 

After a successful group project and presentation in the US, the students worked together again yesterday afternoon. Although this assignment was less academic and more cultural scavenger hunt, the cross-cultural collaboration skill development continues to be a central part of the program. A reciprocal exchange allows students not only to continue to develop their communication skills but does so in both contexts – working together in both Richmond and Yangzhou.

Soccer – the International Game

Our male students and Mr Watson put in a great showing in the international soccer match played in front of a large audience at school. Although the American team did not win, we had a great goal and several crowd-pleasing shots.


Imperial Gardens

Our Chinese partners were excited to show us around the beautiful gardens around the West Slender Lake that were a favorite spot of many emperors. The gardens and lake were in early spring bloom, and were enjoyed by many visitors from around the country.


Breakfast Banquet in Yangzhou 

Yangzhou is famous for breakfast banquets or large group meals. The banquet is an important part of Chinese culture and is the place where relationships and all sorts of business are cemented and discussed. Our large group of students from China and the US enjoyed a wonderful traditional breakfast banquet this morning, and caught a glimpse of the Chinese banquet tradition. Sitting in the historic restaurant near the lake, we could imagine the discussions and relationships formed in the same room for hundreds of years over steamed buns and shredded tofu.


Reflection by Henry C

True Chinese food is nothing like American Chinese food. First off, the cuisine is mostly made up of noodles and dumplings, not rice, as I had previously expected. In fact, rice is considered an undesirable food because of its cheapness. A large part of eating, isn’t actually eating, but are the traditions associated with it. For example, their is a hierarchy at every table, with the host being at the top, followed by oldest to youngest. While seated, the food never stops coming and it is the job of the host to monitor what everybody is eating and enjoying, slowly spinning the lazy susan to place each person’s favorite food in front of them for more helpings.  I also learned that signs of enjoying the food are welcome and sign of respect for the host, for example, when eating noodles or soup dumplings, slurping is completely acceptable. One can learn a lot about a culture just by sitting around the dinner table, that was certainly the case for me.

Showtime – Performing at Student Assembly

The Collegiate students were asked to perform during the annual Earth Hour student assembly. This is a student-run variety show that gathers the whole high school together in the auditorium, and turns off the electricity throughout the rest of the campus for this time. This is a global event, and a very popular way for student leaders here to raise awareness for environmental issues, including energy conservation which is an important effort in reducing air pollution in China. Collegiate students were huge crowd pleaders (600 cheering fans!).


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