The faces were alike but different, from an American high school boy in a plaid shirt to his Chinese counterpart in a school uniform. The responses to the questions were varied too. When asked what influences would shape his future, the American boy said, “I’ve always had my own ideas and I guess I’ll develop them,” while the Chinese boy said, “My parents put very big pressure on me.”
But they agreed on free time, with the American, Pinkerton’s Tony Mastromarino, saying, “You have to have balance” and the Chinese boy, whose “English” name was Samuel, saying, “I gather with my many good friends on the weekend, for fun.”
The students were profiled in a video, “Scholastics and Society,” by junior Rebekah Terry, one of this year’s China Exchange students. On June 10 most of the China Exchange students gathered in a lecture hall to show their culminating projects and to discuss the similarities and differences between them and the Chinese teens.
Tom Weatherby, one of the China Exchange teachers, facilitated the discussion.
Why did they go?
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” trip member Erin Doble said. “You don’t always get a chance to go with a big group of people. I didn’t want to go on my own and walk around clueless. This was a good way to start traveling.”
“Why not?” Doble responded.
Student Adam Burke said he wanted to expose himself to another culture. “I wanted to see what the cultural differences were, and to keep my mind open,” he said, adding that he chose China because it is such a diverse place.
There were definite cultural differences, Burke said. “They focus more on education and study much more than we do,” he said. And when their Chinese peers are asked a question in class, they give more than a “yes” or “no” answer, Burke added, saying, “They’ll continue on, and give you the reason why.”
Terry said she’s been learning Chinese at Pinkerton for three years, “and I figured I might as well use it.” She wants to study abroad in China in college, she said.
While Doble had fun bartering in the shops, the experience was initially “creepy” for fellow traveler Paul McKee. “They were pushy,” he said. “They’d bring you into the back room to show you things, and it was creepy if you weren’t expecting it.”
He did score a good deal on a laser pointer, McKee added.
Student Zack Botnick got a bargain on a wristband, “only 2 U.S. dollars,” he said, displaying the accessory. “We also went to a pearl factory, and got really good deals on pearls.”
The students ate at a Chinese McDonald’s and found the food superior to the U.S. version. “Everything was perfect,” Botnick said. “They put more time and effort into it.”
The chicken tasted like real chicken, not a processed product, Doble said.
They had the typical misadventures of tourists everywhere, with Botnick mistakenly throwing out his wallet at the fast-food outlet. “I had to dig through the trash to get it out,” he said.
McKee was cheated of $20 by a street vendor who snatched the bills and ran away, but he was philosophical about it. “It was only about $20,” he said, noting that was a small loss on the trip of a lifetime.
Terry, who the others said has been studying Chinese the longest, used it frequently, from ordering room service to bargaining in the marketplace. She asked people on the street for directions to McDonald’s, and finally succeeded after two people she approached ran away.
Emily Lecuyer was surprised at the people she met, who were “open-minded and closed-minded at the same time.” Her “Chinese parents” were an example, she said. They were open-minded in the way the American students dressed and expressed their culture, but they also liked things a certain way, she said.
Lecuyer was also surprised to see the expressions of affection between friends that would make them suspect in the U.S.
Lauren McGee said, “The people we met were genuinely nice. They went out of their way to help us. They were very giving and caring, and they made me feel like family.”
And they did feel like family by the end of the visit. Weatherby noted that the students refer to their hosts as their “Chinese parents” and their “Chinese brothers and sisters.”
“I loved them,” Lecuyer said.
Students on the trip included Botnick, Burke, Doble, Lecuyer, the two McGees, Terry, Matthew Kondrat, Mary Lewis, Ryan Bowring, Austin Caux, and Georgia Holland. Chaperones were Weatherby, Social Studies teacher Pamela Griswold and Freshman Associate Dean of Students Suzanne Trice.