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American students got free trips to China
   2014-07-28 13:38:24    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Xiong Siqi

The ten American students at Tian'anmen Square with their teachers [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]


For many Americans, traveling abroad regularly has become their lifestyle. But for those students from impoverished families, traveling abroad is still out of reach.

But this summer 10 lucky top students from Oakland, California got a chance to travel to China for free. They were also granted a chance to look into the lives of their Chinese peers and get a taste of traditional Chinese lifestyle.

Xiong Siqi has more.

The American students with Chinese students [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]

The performer of Erhu, a traditional Chinese musical instrument, is an 11-year-old Chinese boy.

He has studied Erhu for five years, but it's his first time performing for foreigners. This time his audiences are 10 American students and a dozen Chinese students, who gathered to share their traditional culture and customs.

The 10 students are from Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland, California. They are all top students from underprivileged families. Thanks to the Learning AFAR program of AFAR Media, they are offered a free trip to China, which is sponsored by Chinatour.com in partnership with Global Explorers. Casey Kohn, expedition leader of Global Explorers, said this program aims to help the underprivileged students to explore the world.

"I think this provides an opportunity for amazing experiential learning. Students can't learn about other countries in the world but until they're immersed into the culture and seeing different environments. When you get to experience at first-hand, that's where you learn about yourself and get to experience a new perspective on the world. And if we can inspire them to become responsible global citizens through travel, then the world will be a better place."

The 10 students were selected from 40 applicants. Applicants need to submit five essay questions and two teacher recommendations. They were also required to demonstrate family income, previous travel experience and leadership potential. And all of that information goes to a scholarship board. Amy Boyle, assistant principal at Coliseum College Prep Academy, explained the main selection criteria.

"Preferences are given to students who haven't traveled internationally before. So for almost all of our students, it's their first trip. For some of them, it's their first trip on an airplane. Financial need is considered. And then their desire to develop leadership in themselves is the main criteria for the essay. So are they seeking out experiences to develop themselves? Are they able to explain that? So that's the main criteria."

The 10 students are sponsored to visit five iconic cities in China - Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and experience first-hand Chinese culture and history. Bryan Wencez is an 11th-grader, who's never been to China.

The American students and Chinese students are ready to climb the Great Wall [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]

"It is my first time in China. I've been to the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and then we went to the Great Wall. They are really nice. I expect to experience more food and more people talking about China and their daily life and lifestyle. I want to find out the differences between Chinese life and American life because I really like looking at the differences and similarities from my friends from the other side of the world."

The American students and Chinese students at the Great Wall [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]

As Bryan expected, the organizer arranged many activities for American students to interact with their Chinese counterparts. For example, students from the two countries share the stories of their national festivals and Chinese students teach their American peers Chinese calligraphy, how to make dumplings and moon cakes.

The American students and Chinese students are making mooncakes [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]

Chinese students teaching the American students Chinese calligraphy [Photos provided to NEWSPlus Radio]

In this way, not only do the American students get to experience Chinese culture, the participating Chinese students also get a chance to know their American counterparts better. This is also a very rare opportunity for the Chinese teenagers. Zhu Longfei is at his junior year of high school. He and Bryan dress alike with cool hats and hip-hop style clothes. So they got along very well when they met each other. Zhu Longfei says.

"Such an opportunity to communicate with American students is very helpful. It helps improve our communication skills and spoken English. I think it's more useful than the rigid study of grammar in school. It's a good way for us to know more about our American peers."

Since Learning AFAR program's inception in September 2009, they have supported over 270 students and educators in traveling to countries including Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru. It's the fourth time Coliseum College Prep Academy attended the project. Amy Boyle, assistant principal, said the trips have brought the students many changes.

"It completely changed their mindset about what they are personally capable of, the challenges they can overcome. When you have traveled in a foreign country for the first time and have overcome cultural shock and language barriers, it helps the students use their personal ability to stretch themselves. So when they come back, they're more willing to take personal risks and explore their own community. They come back with better understanding of people. These are the biggest changes I see in the students. "

As the sponsor of this year's China project, Chinatour.com, a San Francisco-based travel agency, covered the majority of the expenses. Founded in 2002, Chinatour.com has successfully developed its business to mostly tour packages to China. Ray Cui, CEO of the China Region of Chinatour.com, says they've been looking for such opportunities to take part in cultural exchange projects for many years.

"We have been promoting traveling from the US to China since 2002. It's already been 12 years. Last year, we brought 25,000 American travelers to China. So we think it's time to help some students who cannot afford traveling to China to experience real Chinese culture themselves instead of reading it from books."

Travel is always a good way of education but it's also a luxurious lifestyle, which is not affordable for underprivileged youngsters. However, with such projects, more students from impoverished families are also able to explore the world.

For Studio+, I'm Xiong Siqi.


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