Class trips stand out vividly in my memories of school – bright spots of novelty and freedom against a background of grey groundhog days in the classroom. Back in Ireland, as educational and elevating as I’m sure the Sisters of Mercy intended our outings to be, my most enduring memories are of the fun we had; falling into and wading through armpit-deep slime; our covert glee at seeing plucky and nimble Sister Assumpta sans veil, clad in a wetsuit, and windsurfing like a champ; and being allowed to eat whatever junk food our pocket money could buy.
Jessica Sun, the Chinese secondary school coordinator at Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing), believes it’s important to maximize international students’ time in China by introducing them to the country’s diverse provinces, cities and cultures. “We want students to experience all of China, not just the city they live in,” she says, “to experience Chinese culture and local customs.” From an educational point of view, the chief benefit of school trips is that they allow students to extend their learning outside of the classroom. Lessons learned in a new, applied environment are often more immediate, affecting, and intense.
“Students will have the chance to participate in hands-on activities, such as being involved in community service and interacting with locals. This nurtures their compassion, organizational and leadership skills. These are all attributes that aren’t as easily taught within a study-heavy environment,” says Sun.
That being said, the trips are just as much about enjoyment and reward. “The trips certainly enhance our Chinese Language and Culture programs, but they are also a lot of fun for the students. We don’t want our students to study themselves into the ground. This is a way for students to relieve stress that they may have accumulated throughout the school year with long semesters and examinations.” Extended trips also give students the opportunity to forge deeper friendships and create memories that will last a lifetime.
Angel Gao (US), a Year 12 student who traveled to Guilin
Guilin was very peaceful and quiet. The scenery was like a beautiful painting – the greenest landscape I have ever seen in China. It was very different from fast-paced Beijing, far away from noisy, urban, normal life. Guilin is rural countryside – a restful paradise. On the downside, there were mosquitoes and insects because of the climate!
The best part of the trip was rafting along the mountains. I had to continuously paddle for two hours. It was a unique and satisfying experience. I got to feel the fresh air, relax in a natural environment, and let out all the stress of life in Beijing.
We went to see a famous show called Liu Sanjie (刘三姐). I expected an ordinary show with acting and singing, but I was amazed. The visual effects and designs were so beautiful. It was so vivid that I almost felt that I was part of the story; they used unique lighting and performed in the middle of mountains and rivers. The cast was made up of the residents of a nearby village. It must have been so hard to create such a show; I was thankful to have been able to see it.
One of the activities on the trip was to visit children who went to one of the public schools in Guilin and interact with them. We planned to teach them English and had made many plastic cards containing different English words. However, I realized that it was very hard to teach them what we had prepared; some of the cards they already knew, and the rest were either too hard to remember or too hard to pronounce. To resolve this, we came up with interesting activities on the spot. It really helped me develop coping skills in an emergency situation.
On the trip, I discovered not only the beauty of China’s rural scenery, I also got to relax while learning how to keep a flexible and open mind.
Luca Fitzpatrick (New Zealand), a Year 7 student who traveled to Qingdao
When I saw Qingdao, I thought: “Wow, this is amazing!” because of the lovely beaches and 2008 Olympic harbor area. The ocean water was clean, clear, and perfect for swimming in. Compared to cities in New Zealand, Qingdao is very big, though it’s similar to Auckland in that it’s on the coast. The beaches were also golden and perfect for relaxing on; I had to resist the urge to throw myself in the sea.
Polar Ocean World was the best part of the trip, because of the animals we saw: penguins, seals, and polar bears. The most interesting part was seeing Qingdao from the top of Mount Tai. Qingdao appeared to be flatter than Beijing, because there were many high-rise buildings. The most satisfying part was climbing the 3,000 steps of Mount Tai; we all thought we were going to go up in some sort of cable car or escalator. It was an exhausting climb. The stairs were a real obstacle, but I made it and was proud to know that I was the fifth person in our group to make it to the top.
Qingdao is definitely worth visiting and going back to. I learned that different parts of China are quite different. I used to think that all of China was pretty much a big busy city, full of mayhem. It’s actually very different to that; there are many relaxing places and good holiday areas for the summer.
Chloe Tan (Singapore), a Year 11 student who traveled to Inner Mongolia
In Inner Mongolia, we visited the grasslands and went horseback riding. We also rode camels and went to a sort of amusement park in the middle of the desert. On the last day, we visited a local school.
My first impression of Hohhot was that it was nothing extraordinary. It lacks an urban feel; only a few buildings there surpass 15 floors. But upon closer inspection, I came to realize that Hohhot was full of vibrancy and culture, with Mongolian script adorning signs alongside Chinese, and bustling markets nestled in discreet corners.
My first impression of the grasslands was much more positive; the clear blue sky met the grassy plains on a perfect horizon. The air was crisp, and although the sun shone without a cloud in the sky, the air was surprisingly cold, with gusts of wind blowing the little colored flags atop the many yurts. I was also charmed by the desert, with its fine, sandy brown dunes – but if you turned around, you could still see the city not far away.
The best part of the trip had to be the hotpot feast on the last day. We ate at the little mutton hotpot restaurant; although you can find it in Beijing, there was just something about the lamb there that just couldn’t be rivaled. Our tour guide said the lamb would be good, but many of us thought it was incredible. The most interesting part was when we rode horses out to a small collection of yurts and had afternoon tea there. The milk tea was diluted and salty, but still creamy, and we had an assortment of milk candies and cheese cubes to snack on. The flavor was unusual, but not unpleasant.
But the most satisfying part was the visit to the local school, when we distributed gifts to the students (goodie bags of stationary that we prepared prior to the visit). We had complained about the weight of the bags, but the look of sheer joy on the children’s faces made them feel light as air.
The most interesting person I met was the little girl whose home we visited. We met her mother and her baby brother. She was bright but incredibly humble when we asked about the many academic awards her mother proudly put up on their wall. She did her homework on a little stool and had to take care of her brother when her mother was away at work. With so much responsibility at the tender age of 11, my friends and I were truly inspired.
The most unexpected part was the desert theme park. We lined up for rides on dune buggies, and the skilled driver took us through great walls of sand. The speed and turns were just like a rollercoaster. There were also little wooden swings, motorcyclists showing their skills in a big steel ball, and an acrobat to entertain visitors.
I discovered so much about the life of Mongolian people, their diet, and their customs. Many of them live on the outskirts of the city practicing subsistence farming and making a humble living for themselves, but old customs such as horse breeding, wrestling, and cheese making have not been lost.
Photos courtesy of YCIS Beijing
This article originally appeared on p34-37 of the beijingkids April 2014 issue. Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com