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Together for a Better Future

2024-05-29 11:23:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter ZHOU LIN
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Through visits and exchanges, more students in China are making friends with their peers abroad, contributing to the bond between their countries.


Exchange students from the Australian sister school Scotch Oakburn College exhibiting the Chinese calligraphy which says, “It is such a delight to have friends come from afar,” at the campus of Beijing Jingshan School during their one-week visit this April. 

During his state visit to San Francisco in November 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that 50,000 young Americans would be invited to China for exchanges and learning during the following five years. It was a measure to strengthen educational cooperation between China and the United States and promote friendship between their schools. He also said the future of China-U.S. relations lies in the hands of the youth. As more American teenagers come to China, they can see China with their own eyes, listen to Chinese voices with their own ears, and measure China’s land with their own footsteps. The experience would help them get an accurate, multidimensional and panoramic image of China, so that they can serve as bridges of mutual understanding between the two peoples.

Tamara Stras, principal of Newton South High School, is teaching the English speaking class for high school students at Beijing Jingshan School.

“Sisters” for 40 Years

The Beijing Jingshan School welcomed a special group of foreign guests on April 8 this year. They were a delegation from the two Newton high schools – Newton North High School and Newton South High School in the U.S. During their one-week stay in China, the visitors interacted with Chinese teachers and students, attended the lessons in the school and also taught. Two of the delegates took a history class on the American Civil War, and an English class themed on the identity of American immigrants. Besides, they experienced the charm of traditional Chinese culture, trying their hand at calligraphy, ink painting, and making handicrafts.

“The two schools have a long history of exchanges and international cooperation,” said Zheng Dan, deputy head of Beijing Jingshan School. They established sister-school relations in 1979 and subsequently, communication programs have continued, resulting in a thriving friendship and enriching cross-cultural communication.

The U.S. delegation included the school superintendent and two principals, who were keen on knowing more about the Chinese school’s campus culture, development history, and curriculum so that they could prepare for a visit by teachers and students of the two Newton high schools next year.

Similar educational beliefs contribute to the success of international exchanges. Zheng described the school’s educational philosophy – “Laying a solid foundation for students’ all-round development and cultivating talents with individuality,” which coincides with the American schools’ philosophy. Since Beijing Jingshan School students begin to learn English in primary school and are encouraged to read books written in English, they have a good vocabulary, which facilitates communication and cooperation between the two schools.

A delegation from Newton High Schools in the U.S. pose for a group photo with the students of Beijing Jingshan School on the playground.

Making Friends through Festivals

In order to improve the language proficiency of both teachers and students and gain a better understanding of the society and culture of each other’s country, the annual exchange visits have been extended from one week to four months. In the first half of the year, American teachers and students come to Beijing, and in the second half, Chinese teachers and students reciprocate, so that both sides experience the festival culture of each other.

Liu Tao is the head of the high school English teaching and research group at Beijing Jingshan School. She went to the United States on this exchange program in 2003, when she taught Chinese for four months and experienced American culture through a family homestay. She said, “There are many festivals in the United States in the second half of the year, which enable us to have an overall understanding of American society and cultural life.”

The community where the two Newton high schools are located is home to a large number of immigrants who work as doctors, lawyers, and professors. The family Liu lived with were Jewish. The couple, both lawyers, have four children. Liu was immersed in an English language environment and witnessed the lifestyle of young American people.

She taught Chinese in the Newton high schools, and with her peers held Chinese-themed activities at local primary schools every week. “All the lessons and activities were in English, for which we needed to prepare in advance. Our students used props and even role-playing in their activities,” Liu said.

Knowing about different cultures is important. For example, not all American families celebrate Christmas. Jewish families celebrate Hanukkah, an eight-day festival of lights during winter. “This difference reminded me not to take anything for granted in cultural exchanges,” Liu said.

The two-way learning and communication gave her much food for thought. Back in Beijing, she developed an elective course “Jingshan Little Translators” for children to serve as interpreters in the school’s history museum, act as tour guides, introduce scenic spots in Beijing, and write welcome and farewell speeches. She also set up various scenarios for students to give a three-minute presentation. These activities help students to use English for better communication.

“My teaching philosophy is also changing,” Liu said. “I have greater tolerance toward students and a better understanding of their personalities. I allow them to grow in their own way, and I have become more confident and composed in my teaching.”

Scotch Oakburn College’s teachers and students are taking a group photo with their Chinese partners in Beijing.

The Bond of Mutual Understanding

On April 9, Beijing Jingshan School welcomed exchange teachers and students from its Australian sister school Scotch Oakburn College, a day and boarding school in Launceston, Tasmania, for children from early learning to Year 12.

In May 2014, 16 primary school students from Scotch Oakburn College wrote a letter in Chinese to President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, telling them about the unique flora, fauna, and natural landscape in their communities and inviting them to visit Tasmania. Xi replied to their letter personally and also met with them during his state visit to Australia in 2014, where they planted a tree together. One year later, over 20 Australian teachers, students and their parents were invited to visit China and their sister school in Beijing.

This April, teachers and students of the school revisited Beijing Jingshan School, where they attended classes, participated in symposiums, group discussions, and cultural activities.

Fan Junlin, a ninth-grade student, welcomed his Australian learning partner Jack, who stayed with the Fan family. They went to iconic places in Beijing such as Chang’an Avenue, Beijing’s Central Business District, the Universal Studios, and of course the Great Wall. Jack called China “a very cool country.”

The Australian visitors loved the Beijing Zoo, where they saw giant pandas and gave a thumbs-up to China’s animal protection work. They also experienced traditional Chinese culture, learned to write calligraphy, draw traditional Chinese ink paintings, and savored a tea ceremony and a meal of hot pot.

“Jack’s favorite food is Peking Roast Duck and milk tea. His ink-painting surprised me too!” Fan said. He was also amazed that the Australian students were fans of square dancing, a typical Chinese activity. “They joined the aunties at the Wangfujin pedestrian street square, dancing Australian-style. It was stunning.” he said.

At the farewell party, the Australian students thanked their host families for giving them a colorful tour of Beijing’s famous scenic spots and historical sites, introducing them to Beijing’s unique cuisine, and helping them improve their Chinese language skills. The Chinese students cherished the interactions too, saying that they can understand cultural differences better. Their horizon has been broadened and their cross-cultural communication skills have been improved.

Amity between people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations. The Scotch Oakburn College has started compulsory Chinese classes from preschool, with elective courses for students above the sixth grade. They also opened the first Confucius classroom in Tasmania for locals to learn Chinese and be acquainted with Chinese culture. As more and more young Australians learn Chinese and understand Chinese culture from a young age, the bond between the two peoples is bound to grow stronger.

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