HANGZHOU, China — Matthew Smith got to make Chinese dumplings. Alexis Huber didn’t think she’d ever see duck heads on the menu for breakfast. And Justin Reed ate jellyfish.
But these three Midstate youths, who recently returned from China, sampled more than just exotic foods as part of a delegation of Nashville-area schoolchildren, parents and educators participating in an educational exchange organized by Middle Tennessee State University with a top Chinese magnet school system.
The 36-member delegation, in the country for two weeks, visited classrooms, participated in enrichment activities and visited with Chinese families as part of the reciprocal exchange with Dongcheng Educational Group. They also toured sites in Hangzhou and Beijing, including walking a stretch of The Great Wall of China.
It was the fourth trip led by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and his wife, retired Murfreesboro City Schools teacher Elizabeth McPhee. Other such MTSU delegations visited China in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and Dongcheng students came to Murfreesboro in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
“This is not a restful trip,” said President McPhee. “The students, teachers and parents who come get up and out early and are always ‘on,’ either engaged in classroom exchanges or representing their schools and our university as part of a high-profile delegation.
“But, almost to a person, every one of them says it’s an experience of a lifetime.”
“My trip to China was an amazing experience and I have met many new friends,” said Helen Smith, 12, of Murfreesboro. “My older brother and sister went to China on MTSU’s first and second trips to this country. They had a great time and I knew I wanted to go someday.”
Alexis, 12, of Franklin, said, “It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. And I have made so many new friends. I now have a better appreciation of the Chinese culture and hope to return to China in the future.”
“Every day in China was a new experience,” said Justin, 17, also of Franklin. “One night, I saw the most amazing and vibrant show I have ever seen – ‘The Romance of the Song Dynasty.’ The colors and dancing were spectacular to me because everything seemed to flow very seamlessly.”
Dongcheng, an affiliate of Hangzhou Normal University, oversees a network of magnet-style schools in and near Hangzhou, located in China’s eastern region. The goal of the back-and-forth exchanges is to share best practices with educators on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
“Next summer, a delegation of Chinese students will come to America and my family will have the opportunity to host students,” said Matthew, 11, of Murfreesboro. “We will get to show them our culture, our customs, our education and many more things! It will be exciting to see both sides of this cultural and educational experience.”
MTSU’s Confucius Institute, a joint effort between Hangzhou Normal and MTSU, oversees the annual exchange. Families paid their travel expenses to China, but most housing and travel costs were covered by the institute and Dongcheng.
Named for the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, the institute is sponsored by China’s Education Ministry to promote Chinese language, history and culture through tours, exchanges and university partnerships. There are more than 440 institutes in 120 countries.
Under the leadership of Director Guanping Zheng, MTSU’s institute has helped teach Chinese language and culture to more than 2,000 students in seven Tennessee counties. It also offers long-distance language training via satellite TV and the Internet.
— Andrew Oppmann (email@example.com)
FOUR STUDENT ESSAYS ABOUT THEIR CHINA EXPERIENCE
By Matthew Smith
I recently had the amazing opportunity to travel to China with Middle Tennessee State University. Our delegation consisted of a group of students, teachers and parents. The purpose for our trip was to explore the education and culture of China.
This incredible experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. Our group encountered many great things, however there were a few specific experiences I remember the best.
One of my favorite things about the trip was going to the ancient Great Wall of China. It was amazing that I was walking on one of the largest man-made structures in the world! As I climbed the steps, it made me think about how difficult the Great Wall was to build. Hand-placing each stone and carrying the mortar up the mountain must have been extremely hard. Also, I noticed the steps were built with uneven heights on purpose to help defend against attacking armies. A nice surprise near the top of our climb was finding a guard station that sold ice cream and drinks!
Our group took an evening boat ride on Qiandao Lake (Thousand Islands Lake) that I really enjoyed. There was a beautiful sunset on the lake. There were many small islands with lots of trees spread throughout the lake. The riverboat reminded me of a Chinese house, with wood siding and a curved roof. Dinner included traditional Chinese dishes served family style on a Lazy Susan in the center of the table.
My family had the opportunity to eat dinner with one of our hosts, the Ding family. Their family consisted of the mom, dad, grandfather, and the son, Yixin. We celebrated Yixin’s 10thbirthday, which is a big deal in China! We first made traditional Chinese dumplings with the family. After dinner, we held a birthday celebration which included eating a 6.6-meter-long noodle without stopping, then had cake with dragon fruit.
Next summer, a delegation of Chinese students will come to America and my family will have the opportunity to host students. We will get to show them our culture, our customs, our education and many more things! It will be exciting to see both sides of this cultural and educational experience.
Matthew, 11, travelled to China with his brothers Andrew, 11, and Issac, 13, as well as their parents, John and Jennifer. He is a fifth-grader at The Discovery School in Murfreesboro.
By Alexis Huber
My family and I recently returned from a two-week visit to China. We went with MTSU as an educational and cultural experience.
The Chinese food was very different than what we see in America. For example, at the breakfast buffet at our hotel, I would have choices of fish skin, preserved squid, duck heads and chicken feet! A lot of the foods there I would never imagine myself trying, but surprisingly, I enjoyed octopus, green tea cake and many more things.
One of my favorite events was the meeting of my host family. They had a daughter named Yuann. Even though there was a huge language barrier, we were still able to enjoy each other’s company.
Our host family took us on a tour of West Lake, which is located in Hangzhou, China. The heat index averaged 103 degrees, but the breeze from the electric trolley we were riding made it enjoyable and helped us focus on the beautiful sights of mountains and boats.
One of my other favorites was The Great Wall. It was much larger than I expected, but I was able to appreciate the time and effort the Chinese put into placing each stone.
It was an amazing experience that I will never forget. And I have made so many new friends. I now have a better appreciate of the Chinese culture and hole to return to China in the future.
Alexis, 12, traveled to China with her parents Keith and Shelley. She is a seventh-grade homeschool student in Franklin.
By Helen Smith
My trip to China was an amazing experience and I have met many new friends. My older brother and sister went to China on MTSU’s first and second trips to this country. They had a great time and I knew I wanted to go someday.
I have met with the Chinese students every year when they have come to the United States and it was fun having them in my own home, sharing our family’s traditions. I was looking forward to this trip since the day I learned I was going.
While in China, I enjoyed spending time with our host families. They were very welcoming and gave me a lot of knowledge of their beautiful cities and traditions.
In Hangzhou, our hosts gave my mother and me a visit to the beautiful West Lake, where we took a boast ride and walked along the banks.
Throughout our visit, I liked the dancing and singing. And I loved the wonderful meals served to us – it was very good food.
We also visited a museum with Peking Opera costumes, which was fun, and I appreciated seeing them even more when we saw a show, “The Romance of the Song Dynasty.”
I also really enjoyed fencing. I never had been exposed to this fun sport – and I learned a lot from it.
This trip was an amazing experience and I hope to go again someday. I know I will keep in touch with the people I let there and we will remain friends forever.
Helen, 12, traveled to China with her mother, Collier. She is a eighth-grader at Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro.
By Justin Reed
On behalf of the entire MTSU delegation, I would like to thank our Chinese hosts for their hospitality. This trip has been a wonderful experience for everyone.
This was my first time in China and, reflecting upon my experiences there, I am certain it will not be my last.
Every day in China was a new experience. One night, I saw the most amazing and vibrant show I have ever seen – The Romance of the Song Dynasty. The colors and dancing were spectacular to me because everything seemed to flow very seamlessly.
In Hangzhou, I visited the Lotus Pond, the site of the recent G-20 summit and I have even eaten a jellyfish, which is something I thought I would never do. While in Beijing, I visited The Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
My host families were very nice and I enjoyed every minute with them. I will keep in touch with them.
Lastly, I would like to again thank everyone for their amazing hospitality and for their friendship – a friendship that will last forever.
Justin, 17, travelled to China with his parents, Eric and Kristal. He is a senior at Page High School in Franklin.