Fords glimpse Chinese culture

The group, led by Mr. Andrew Poolman (left) and Ms. Barbara LaPenta (right) pose along the Great Wall. Photo courtesy of Mr. Andrew Poolman.

Immediately after graduation in early June, a group of thirteen Chinese students embarked on a journey to explore a foreign culture. After two flights nineteen hours in total, students and chaperones boarded a bus to a small agrarian town at the base of the mountains, where the Great Wall towered over what was once the border of China and the north.

     With an early start the following day, the group climbed up a steep trail that led to the entrance to an abandoned portion of the wall. After exploring many towers and reaching the local peak, the group observed what may have been the most astonishing view of the trip: the wall extending for miles on end until it was obscured by the distant  Beijing smog.

     After a lunch of grilled rainbow trout and many side dishes, the group traveled into that smog, to visit historical sites, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the National Museum, and Jingshan Park. We also created a school partnership with the Beijing No. 4 and No. 35 Schools, and began the trip’s first home stays.

photo by Kethan Srinivasan ’21

     After five days in Beijing, the group headed to the southern province of Yunnan and then to the next homestay location, a small town of eight hundred. The group stayed in this village for four days, having one of its toughest experiences in China.

     The village, which was self-sustaining because the Chinese government rejected its ethnic-minority citizens, lacked many amenities students take for granted. Not only did it not have luxuries like televisions and other electronics, but it also lacked a functioning sewage system, sealed windows, and meal variety. Some homestay families often ate the same meals many days in a row in order to make the best of what they had. 

While our days in the village were spartan, group members all learned a lot, making the trip a truly international experience rather than a tourist’s vacation.

     While our days in the village were spartan, group members all learned a lot, making the trip a truly international experience rather than a tourist’s vacation.

     The next destination was the city of Dali. Here, the group immersed itself in Chinese life by going to Chinese marketplaces and traditional Chinese tea houses. Students could then explore Chinese culture on their own. Some students found the tradition of preparing and drinking tea most interesting and spent a lot of my time in tea houses speaking with owners about how the tea is prepared.