Global Education

Senior creates personal connections with world

By Claire Barnewolt
Published: February 2010

Though I was selected to go to China, I was ultimately unable to participate. I did, however, host an English teacher named Sophie from Beijing. She came the day before Thanksgiving, immediately immersing herself into American holiday customs upon her arrival.

I feel lucky to have had the chance to host someone from another country and learn about another culture, even though I am not going to China for the second part of the exchange.

Sophie was a quiet guest, unassuming and soft-spoken, but she made her presence known. Every morning, I would drive her to school and we discussed differences between the US and China about academic pressures, music preferences, and even driving regulations.

At home, she sometimes made my family Chinese pancakes or fried rice. In return, I made her sugar cookies, which she’d never tasted before.

Through Sophie, I learned a lot of useful Chinese vocabulary. I’ve taken Chinese since 7th grade, but classes cannot compare to having a human Chinese dictionary in your house!

As we discussed her background, I learned more about the Cultural Revolution in China. Detailed stories of her parents’ lives during that time brought history to life for me.

Every weekend, the whole exchange group got together for Chinese lessons, and I was able to talk with the other Jingshan students. I noticed that teenagers everywhere are more or less the same: they have the same worries, same sense of humor, same big appetite.

This Chinese program was the third exchange experience I have had at South. I also went on a trip to France and participated in the new Indian exchange program. Part of what draws me to these types of opportunities is a love of travel.

But what I am really looking for in experiences like this is a personal connection with people from all different backgrounds.

Sometimes people come across a language barrier when they travel and stay in tourist destinations and in their hotels, not truly experiencing another way of life. I prefer to get out and meet people from different countries and learn about their food, language, religion, and family dynamics.

In the high school in France that South students visited last April, we made many friends and saw that their school was much like ours: same chemistry, same math, same tests, same rowdy lunchroom.

In India last December, we grew really close to our partners, coming up with many inside jokes together and dancing on our long bus rides.

All of these interactions that I have had with other students from other countries has shown me that we are all not so different in this world.

There is definitely some underlying spirit in us that makes us all human. It is not hard to connect with another culture: a smile and a steady “Ni hao goes a long way.

I hope to visit my new friends in Beijing one day, but until that day comes, I will cherish the memories of their stay here and the lasting impressions they have made on me.

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