|Dulaney students learned as much about Chinese culture as they did its educational system.|
As they stepped off the plane, 7,000 miles from home, they wondered if they would find the knowledge they came to gain. But by the time they boarded the plane for home, they realized they’d found much more than they ever expected.
Five Dulaney High School students and one chaperone traveled to Xi’an, China from May 22 to July 18 to learn about the Chinese education system and culture for part two of the China Exchange Program established this year.
Envisioned by Superintendent Dr. Joe A. Hairston, the program came to life this past summer thanks to the efforts of former Dulaney High School Principal Lyle Patzkowsky (now the area assistant superintendent for the central area) and English Department Chair Kelly Smith. They went to China in the summer of 2006 to establish connections with several high schools. They subsequently created the China Exchange Committee at Dulaney, which coordinated a visit, in March and April 2007, of nine students and one teacher from TieYi, the school that showed the most promise.
“The major goal of the China Exchange Program is to offer students the opportunity to experience and understand the emerging Chinese culture and better prepare them for future leadership roles in their professions,” says Deborah Wilson-Matusky, library media specialist at Dulaney who accompanied the Dulaney students on their trip this summer.
|The Dulaney students pose in a traditional Chinese pagoda.|
Each of the visitors to China stayed with a host family, where they gained insight into the practices that make the Chinese culture so rich. They attended school three times a week and took morning classes with their host Chinese students. They then joined with Wilson-Matusky for a two-hour Chinese language class. In the afternoons, they enjoyed cultural activities such as cooking, music, physical education, and art. Wednesdays and Fridays were devoted to sightseeing and trips to places of interest, including a four-day excursion to Beijing.
For junior Dustin N., the trip to China was actually a trip back to a former home. Dustin lived in China when he was four years old. “I learned Chinese as my first language,” Dustin says, “but lost it when we moved back to the states. I was interested in seeing what life is like for Chinese high school students because my cousin is in high school there, and if we had stayed, I would be a high school student in China now.”
For senior Lauren J., the trip was a glimpse into a completely different culture. “It was so different from American life,” she says, “but I miss it so much. The food was amazing, and all the people were really nice.”
Asked to name some of the differences, Lauren mentions riding to the airport at 4:30 a.m. and seeing people outside sweeping the streets. She also talks about people hanging their wash out to dry, the small size of Chinese kitchens, and jaywalking because there were no crosswalks.
|Dulaney students, in their Chinese school uniforms, stand in front of TieYi, the school they attended three days per week.|
Chinese law only requires students to attend school for nine years, although the majority of students stay for all 12. In TieYi, the 60-65 students per classroom remain stationary while their teachers rotate from place to place. When a teacher enters the room, the students stand and welcome the teacher in unison.
School begins at 7:30 a.m. and lasts until 6:00 p.m. with a break from noon to 2:30 p.m. On-campus dormitories house a portion of the 7,000 students, who take seven classes, including English language, Mondays through Saturdays. Teaching style deviates significantly from what American students have grown accustomed to. Lecture is favored over discussion, individual questioning preferred over student interaction.
“We would get up in the morning, put on our uniforms, and take a regular bus, not a school bus,” Lauren explains. “You would flash your pass to get into school and then sit in classrooms of about 60 kids or so, sitting on little benches. In the classes I took with my host student, there wasn’t much student-teacher interaction except in the English classes. The English teachers really encourage the students to practice speaking.”
Student scholarship is held in extremely high regard, culminating in the administration of the Gao Kao, a national exam given to graduating seniors. It spans three days and covers history, science, mathematics, Chinese and English languages, and politics.
“Approximately 10 million students take the test, and only five million will be offered a placement in the various colleges in China,” says Wilson-Matusky. “For those who do not make it, it can be a difficult pill to swallow. They must go to training schools, turn to farming, or work at menial labor. There is no second chance at the test.”
The experience of spending time in China left a deep impression on the Dulaney students. They witnessed the discipline required to satisfy the “national focus on student achievement.”
|Dulaney students and their host Chinese students spent time away from school touring the area.|
“When it was time to learn, the kids really buckled down,” says Katrina R., a senior at Dulaney in her second year of studying the Chinese language. “There’s so much stress and pressure put upon them, so they are very serious about school.”
According to Lauren, “One girl who I met when she visited Dulaney earlier this year burst into tears when she got a 97 on her English exam.”
But the Dulaney students stress that the image of Chinese students always being serious and always working is not true.
“What really surprised me,” says Dustin, “is how much the kids in high school in China are the same as kids here. They may be more studious, but they play sports, do extracurricular activities, go shopping, and play a lot of video games.”
“School is where they socialize,” says Lauren, “because when they get home they are expected to use their free time to study. Many of the students in top-level classes aren’t even expected to do any chores at home so that they can focus on their school work.
Trip members agree that knowing limited Chinese made it difficult to always communicate effectively, yet the language barrier was not high enough to prevent the formation of budding friendships. The culturally-divided teens merged when similar tastes in music, movies, video games, and school subjects were recognized, and relationships were strengthened over sports games and shopping trips.
Dustin says that he maintains a number of friendships he made in China, keeping in touch with his new friends via e-mail.
In college, Katrina plans to major in Chinese and pair her studies with business classes. Not surprisingly, her goals fit right into the exchange program’s objective.
“We want to see this program grow,” says Wilson-Matusky. “We want to offer this opportunity to many more students since we believe that such an experience is an educational necessity in today’s world.”
“Studying abroad helps students gain independence and be more mature in what they do,” Katrina agrees. “I learned to try my best and take everything seriously, no matter how insignificant it may seem.”
Lauren adds, “I gained a lot of self-confidence because I was able to speak in a new language.”
BCPS hopes to produce well-rounded and capable world leaders by teaching students the cultures of other influential countries, and plans are in the works to continue and expand the China Exchange Program.
“China is becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world and continues to move upward and forward,” Wilson-Matusky says. “Our students will have the opportunity to see how the Chinese have accomplished this momentum and to deeply appreciate their culture.”
Story by Alissa G., a summer intern in the Office of Communications and a senior at Pikesville High School, with contributions from Diana L. Spencer, communications officer. Photos courtesy of Dulaney High School