International Emerging Leaders Program

at Collegiate School

Homestay Experience

By Olivia H.

I was unsure of what to anticipate for my homestay experience. As I walked up the six flights of stairs to reach my host families apartment, I wondered how the next couple of days would go.

The two-story apartment, where I spent the next five days, was beautiful and nicely furnished. My host student, Shirley, took me up a small flight of stairs to show me where I would be sleeping. The loft-like area included: a bedroom, a bathroom and balconies for drying clothing.

Before the trip we were informed that numerous houses and apartments do not have heating. To prepare for the possibility of being cold all night, I packed multiple pairs of sweatpants and sweatshirts. I also brought my own blanket, just in case. Unlike most of my fellow classmates, I was blessed with a heating system.

Each morning I would wake up around 7:30am and be ready for breakfast by 8:00am. Tuesday and Thursday mornings my host family took me out to breakfast. On Monday and Wednesday, however, my host mother cooked wonderful dumplings and noodles. Breakfast time was usually quiet considering the language barrier. Once I finished my breakfast either my host mother or host father would take us to school to begin the day’s adventures.

Every night my host family took me to a new and exciting place to eat dinner. While I do not have a favorite restaurant from this trip, they successfully helped me experience the famous cuisine of Jiangsu Province.

As I was leaving my host family’s house on the last morning of my stay, they informed me that if I decide to come back to China, they will welcome me with opens arms. This trip to China is one for the books, and it could not have been possible if it weren’t for the generous and caring host families from Yangzhou.


Dong Guan Street

By Kate P.

Today the whole group spent the morning at Dong Guan Street market. Located in a historic part of Yangzhou, the market is one long street filled with handmade items, clothing and lots of delicious foods.

When we arrived at the market we were split into four teams for a scavenger hunt. I was in a group with my host Rachel as well as Catherine and her host Melody. We spent an hour traveling through the market searching for red lanterns, drums, jade dragons and much more. We even tried new foods such as squid on a stick, which tasted really good!

After we finished finding everything on the list, we spent the rest of our time shopping in the stores for souvenirs and having dumplings for lunch. I really enjoyed the entire morning and loved walking around the vibrant streets filled with new shops and foods to explore.

A day in Yangzhou

By Sumner B.


Today was the second day of our visit in Yangzhou, and our first day visiting our sister school Beijing New Oriental. I quickly realized that I had greatly underestimated how big the school would be. Over 4,000 students from kindergarten through grade 12 learn and live on the vast campus.

Our first stop of the day was to a kindergarten classroom to meet some of the youngest students of the school. Even at only 6 years old these kids were quick to greet us in English with an excited “hello!” and show off their English while we helped them with their project. I wish we could have stayed longer but soon we were moving on to our next stop on the tour.

When we exited the lower school building into a spacious plaza I heard a whistle, music, and many voices headed in our direction. Out of the nearest building marched a line of students two by two. As our host buddies explained to us that these students were lining up for morning exercises hundreds more children filled the plaza. Each class had a student in front who was to lead them in the routine. Olivia Hess and I quickly jumped in line with the students and tried our best to follow along with the movements. Through the whole process I could hear the kids behind me in line laughing as I clumsily tried to copy the little girl in front of me. It’s safe to say that I stood out thanks to both my lack of coordination and the fact that I was double the height of the kids around me, but nevertheless I had a lot of fun trying.

On the way to our next stop, the gym, we noticed huge banners hung down the side of the buildings. Each of the banners was congratulating a senior for being accepted into an American university. Quite a few were for UVA which of course made many of the collegiate students excited. Once we got to the gym we played ping pong, badminton, and basketball with the other Chinese students. Some took this as an opportunity to show off their athletic skill while others, like myself, enjoyed more relaxed games with our hosts. Then we had the opportunity to learn tai chi and see an impressive performance from one of their coaches who competes in national martial arts competitions.


After a lunch and a break with our hosts. We all met in a classroom for a lesson taught by Ms. Clemans. We did a case study of Zara, the Spanish clothing store that is highly successful in the world of fast fashion. While more popular in Europe, Zara is rapidly growing, especially in China. We looked at the pros and cons of fast fashion as an industry as well as the differences in Zara’s presence in America and China. It was really interesting to discuss fashion trends and ideas with our sister school and learn about a very different perspective.


Finally we ended our day at the school with a lesson in Chinese calligraphy. After learning about the art of calligraphy from the teacher we practiced writing the Chinese characters that mean “everlasting friendship”. Camille, one of the Chinese students, helped me form the complicated Chinese characters and by the end my uneven handwriting at least vaguely resembled the graceful brush strokes from the example. Then the calligraphy instructor told us that he could tell us our personalities just by looking at our calligraphy. Of course this prompted us all to rush over with our barely dry papers and line up for him to read our handwriting. I was told that my outward calm appearance was very different from my inner personality and that I was very creative. I disagree with the creativity part but it was a lot of fun listening to his interpretations.

With our day drawing to a close, the Collegiate students parted ways and we all went home to our host families for dinner.

Visiting WestRock Asia-Pacific Headquarters

By Jake J.

Today, we visited WestRock Shanghai to meet and talk to Quentin Yan who had participated in two panels on Chinese American business relations when Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School visited us in January at Collegiate.  Mr. Yan, who is based in Richmond, is a Director of Asia-Pacific Market Development in Paper Solutions Strategy and Business development at WestRock, a leader in the global packing industry.


We arrived at 8am and rode up to 20 stories to the lobby. Mr. Yan showed us some of WestRock’s common and iconic designs on display near the reception. He escorted us to a small conference room where he talked about the most important components of their research, design, and sales process.

“You have to be able to sell yourself and sell the company before you can sell the product” was Mr. Yan’s advice in the China market.  He then presented a video that explained the survey process, specifically women aged 25-40 who consume juices and “ready to drink” teas.  Afterwards, he opened up the floor for questions about the company and explained his roles in product development, sales, and marketing.

Sitting with Mr. Yan

Before we left, we had a quick tour of WestRock’s office space and other facilities, which were very similar to the location in Richmond.  Mr. Yan was very helpful with answering our questions and explaining how we could get involved in this field of work.


An afternoon in Shanghai

By John B.

After visiting WestRock, our tour of Shanghai began with a visit to Tianzi Fang, an old shopping bazaar where we found all sorts of traditional gifts.  Jake and I enjoyed bartering with locals when trying to buy chopsticks, waving cats, and silk scarves.


We worked up quite an appetite shopping, and ate a delicious lunch at Din Tai Fung.  From its Taiwanese origins, it has become famous for its dumplings and has attracted the attention of multiple Chinese celebrities. We are pork dumplings, fired rice, and sampled Zongzi, a recommendation from our very own Price Withers. The restaurant had a glass opening to the kitchen were we were able to watch the chefs prepare meals.

After lunch, we toured more of Shanghai’s highlights including the French and British concessions. These areas of China were occupied by each country respectively, but when they were released to China, East met West, and now “yesterday’s buildings meet today’s fashion.”  On the way to our next stop, we drove down People’s Avenue, a street where people used to race horses, saw Shanghai City Hall, and the park where locals would go to set up their children for marriage.


We then arrived at the Bund, a sightseeing stop, and saw the skyline of China including Pearl Tower and Shanghai Tower.  Our final stop at local markets was the highlight of our day.  We certainly will come home with some high quality goods.

We are currently riding the high-speed train from Shanghai to Zhenijang where we will be greeted by a representative from our partner school, Beijing New Oriental Foreign School. The bus will take us to Yangzhou where we will meet our host families.


The Journey to China

By Will W.


Our IEL Asia class is incredibly excited to travel to China. Some are looking forward to the homestay experience, some about exploring Yanzhou and Shanghai, and others about the flight, nearly 15 hours in length.

We have been working hard to understand Chinese-American business relations and learning about Chinese culture in class. Ever since our Chinese visitors from Beijing New Oriental Foreign Language School completed their one week stay with us in January, we have been excited to visit them at their school in Yangzhou.


After talking with the group who participated in IEL Asia last year, I am particularly excited for the activities at the schools, as I have heard they really go out of their way to both involve us and make sure we are having a good time.  I am also looking forward to my stay  with my host family.  I have never had a homestay experience and am excited to be part of someone else’s family (although I certainly love mine).

I think I speak for all of us when I say we are thankful to have this experience and only anticipate an engaging, eye-opening visit to China.



Today we explored downtown Mexico City, mostly around the city square. The buildings in this area were built by the Spanish over the pre-existing buildings. Because of this and the fact that Mexico City was built on a lake, the city is sinking. We began by looking at uncovered ancient ruins called Templo Mayor. Many of the ruins were made of stone, and some still had the original paint on them. We then went to Catedral Metropolitana, a giant catholic cathedral built by the Spaniards which has the 14th largest organ in the world. After looking through the cathedral and learning about its history and current use as a place of worship, we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant (Los Azulejos) that had beautiful tile walls and served delicious tacos and enchiladas. We then walked through Palacio del Correo, an old post office with beautiful gold detailing. Our last stop was Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes where we had seen the ballet the night before. This time, instead of entering the theater, we went to a different floor to see murals which depict historic events and ideas in Mexican history including revolution, socialism, and freedom.
Elizabeth M.

Folkloric Dance

On Wednesday evening we went to the center of México City to watch the Ballet de Amalia Hernandez in the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes. It was an unforgettable and culturally rich experience. The performance started with a line of men, dressed in feathered headdresses and pants, who played the drums while a large group of dancers performed tribal like movement. Following this opening scene were a series of dances that reflected both the traditional and romantic aspects of Mexican culture. The dancers were all dressed in traditional Mexican attire which paralleled the music. The female dancers were wearing vibrantly colored dresses that had long skirts which they used to dance with. While the male dancers were dressed in ranch and mariachi costumes. The stage where they performed had constant set changes which made the ballet more unique. The performance was also interesting because the musicians were always on stage and even interacted with the dancers, showing that they are equally a part of the show as the dancers. The entire show was truly remarkable.

Caroline R.

Home away from home

When we arrived to Mexico we all had a feeling of nervousness. We were afraid to meet our hosts and worried about the coming week. We first arrived at Carol Baur late Thursday night, to finally meet our hosts and their familes. They slowly called out our names and one by one the crowd of luggage began to thin. Once we were called we left with our new families for the week, still full of anxiety. After the awkward introductions, my host Yussef and his family took me to get some real tacos. It was 1:00 in the morning. From the lack of sleep and the plane, I was feeling sick. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling any better the next morning and I was prepared for an extremely uncomfortable conversation. My host mom came to me and said not to worry, she’s a mom and everything will be okay. She gave me medicine and a coke with lemon (the Mexican remedy for a stomach ache). For the next two days my host mom babied me. She made sure I took my medicine every meal and got me what ever I desired. Her and my host family’s hospitality was amazing. It eased any nerves that I had about how the week was going to be. Although I felt terrible for two days, I was excited for what opportunities my time in Mexico would bring. The connection I share with my host family is life long, and I know we will stay in contact.

Matt G.

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