Letters from Jingshan: A South senior and her overseas journey to Beijing

By Becky Crowder
Published: December 2008

On January 23, I will embark on my longest trip abroad: four months going to school in Beijing, China. I am going as a part of the Newton-Beijing Jingshan Exchange Program.

Every year, during first semester, a group of eight Chinese students and two teachers come to Newton North and Newton South. Then, during second semester, eight students and two teachers from Newton go to Beijing, stay with families, and attend the Jingshan School.

The program provides students from both places the opportunity to experience new cultures during both parts of the exchange.

I first heard about this exchange program in seventh grade when my brother participated in it and my family hosted a student for the first time. While my brother lived in China with another family, my parents and I flew there to visit him.

Amazed and excited about the prospect of going to school and exploring Beijing, I decided that I too wanted to take part in the exchange when I got to highschool.

Since then, my family has hosted two other Jingshan students. Through this experience, I now have a Chinese brother and two Chinese sisters.

In addition to language and culture studies, living with and becoming friends with the Chinese students is a very important part of our preparation. Every year that students from China have visited, I have had many conversations that have greatly enriched my understanding of China today.

My Chinese sister and I talk about boyfriends and girlfriends, school, hobbies, families, academic pressure, religion, travel, music, movies, and food and have learned a lot about the differences between our two cultures.

Our American group has been preparing for the trip since last spring, when we first applied and were accepted into the exchange program. This summer we took a six week long Chinese class with Sheng Lao Shi, the Chinese teacher here at South, and since the Chinese students arrived in September, we have continued our extra Chinese study in a weekly Friday night class.

Here, the Chinese students participate in regular American classes at both high schools; our level of Chinese, however, would not allow us to do the same in China.

During our time there, we will attend their classes as well as some classes taught in English provided by the school, including an English seminar focused on books that are about China.

During our four months there, our group will have two vacation periods when we will be able to travel to other parts of China. Lately, we have dedicated much of our focus to planning these two trips, one of which will be two weeks after we get there.

Going through travel books, researching on the internet, and speaking with the Chinese students and teachers, we have decided that our first trip will be to go down the eastern coast, stopping at Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) and other historical sites and ending in Shanghai.

From now until we leave, we will be learning more Chinese, brushing up on the cultural customs and ways to be polite in China’s culture, and buying presents for our host families.

Zai jian, meaning goodbye, for now. There will be more to come of our adventures in Beijing!

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