The 16 Chinese students, joined by representatives from Nanning including the principal and several teachers, lived with host families on their first trip to the United States.
Their visit brought them to iconic American cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and New York, but it was in Falls Church and on visits to Washington, D.C., where the Chinese students spent much of their time.
“I like the houses,” said Wu Siyu, 16, who went by her English name, Jessica. “I like the snow, too, and I got to see snow in New York.”
Jessica contrasted the Chinese school day with her American experience. “In China, we wake up at 6:20 a.m.,” she said. Jessica went on to say that students aren’t finished with work until late into the night, as late as 10 p.m. (Students at Nanning are required to study 10 hours a day.)
Mason’s Chinese instructor Tina Kao, who has overseen the introduction of the Chinese language classes at Mason and has now spearheaded the student exchange program, crafted an itinerary for the visitors over the nine-day period.
Activities included dinners held at Mason, some of which gave Chinese students their first experiences with American-style cooking such as macaroni and cheese. Students watched the Hoyas basketball game at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 14, visited the Smithsonian Museums and major sites like the White House.
Nanning’s officials were also able to watch Mason’s classes in action, and said they were particularly impressed with the quality of the International Baccalaureate program. “The school equipment is very good,” said one official.
The Chinese exchange trip finished with a multi-talented performance by the students before the entire Mason student body on Friday, Jan. 16. Students showcased their musical abilities, a high energy kung fu performance and classic Chinese calligraphy and knotting – the latter which brought the house down as Chinese students threw their intricate knotted bows into the screaming Mason audience. A stunning display of Chinese calligraphy was presented to Kao in gratitude for her work. Students concluded the performance with an ensemble rendition of Terry Jack’s “Seasons in the Sun.”
Kao and Mason’s acting Principal Mary McDowell handed certificates of honor to each of the Chinese and Mason students who participated in the exchange program. McDowell also exchanged gifts with the Nanning officials, who gave McDowell a beautiful woven tapestry special to the Guangxi region.
The cooperative effort between the two schools began in 2004-05, during a series of visits between the school’s principals, including former Mason Principal Robert Snee. This is the first exchange of students, which began with a group of six Mason students who visited Nanning along with one parent and teacher, Kao, from Dec. 18 – Jan. 3. Students on that trip saw Shanghai and other major sites across China, according to Kimberly Kenny, 17. Kenny said the trip showed a “stark comparison” between China and what she had known about the country beforehand.
Kenny stayed with Jessica and her family during the exchange trip, and in addition to other activities, celebrated the Christmas holiday with the family – an example of how much Western and Chinese culture has mixed in recent decades. “We had a Christmas tree,” said Jessica. “It wasn’t very high.”
Kao said she hoped the trip would broaden American and Chinese students’ perspectives on the commonalities in life. “I wanted them to learn about what’s good in America, and to see the differences,” she said. “They did so much for the kids in China. I hoped they would get something out of their visit here.”