International Emerging Leaders Program

at Collegiate School


March 2016

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!).


Visit to a Buddhist Temple

 Yangzhou is home to a famous Buddhist temple and monastery. We were able to visit one afternoon just as the monks and their lay followers were chanting their evening prayers. The small Buddhist community in China continues the traditions of a religion that was relatively widespread in the past. Although many temples and other religious structures were either destroyed or turned into museums during the communist era, this sanctuary in our partner city of Yangzhou is a true oasis of dedication to the spiritual path. The teacher who accompanied us informed the group that many business professional who find success come to this temple for extended retreats. She said that for many people in China “when they become rich, they discover they are empty inside.” On retreats, people live as the monks do eating simple vegetarian food that they grow themselves, wearing robes, and spending time in contemplative meditation. The simultaneous lack of religion and quest for spirituality is very complex in China. This visit only furthered our recognition of the seeming contractions that exist, and added more nuance to how we attempt to understand life in China.


Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum

The relatively new museum in Nanjing focused on the Nanjing massacre by the Japanese army in 1937. The museum provided a great deal of insight into the Chinese perspective on the horrific events and their importance in modern Chinese history. Sharing this experience with our Chinese partners provided even further opportunity for understanding an important part of World War II that is rarely an integral part of history books in the West.


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