Visiting US students build new connections

By Mo Jingxi | China Daily
Updated: March 23, 2024
Middle school students from Washington, the United States, sing a classic Chinese song at the Peking University Overseas Exchange Center in Beijing on Wednesday. YI HAIFEI/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

"Connection" is the word most frequently being used by a group of students and teachers from the state of Washington in the United States, who are currently on an 11-day visit to China.

"I guess this trip means connection to me. I've been getting more connected with Chinese culture and Chinese society. I've also been able to make friends here in China and getting close to them," said Montserrat Romero-Rocha, a 12th-grade student from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington.

Speaking of her trip so far, Romero-Rocha said she really loves Beijing roast duck and is looking forward to buying traditional Chinese hanfu to take back to the US.

"It's really important to take new steps and do new things. I never would have been able to experience this if I stayed at home and didn't get out of my comfort zone," she said.

The journey of Romero-Rocha and 23 other students from Washington began after President Xi Jinping announced in November last year that China was ready to invite 50,000 young people from the US to the country over the next five years. Besides Beijing, the group from Washington will also visit Shiyan in Hubei province, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

Though this is the first time that Romero-Rocha is in China, her older sister Abranna, who was also a student of Lincoln High School, visited the country in 2016.

"I think it really expanded her horizons, so I want to go and see the world from this trip," she said.

Romero-Rocha's sister was among the more than 100 students and teachers of Lincoln High School who were invited to China after Xi visited the school during his first state visit to the US as Chinese president in 2015.

During that trip, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan watched the school choir perform the Chinese classic song, In the Field of Hope.

Arts facilitator Lynn Eisenhauer, who taught the choir how to sing the song at that time, is also part of the ongoing trip.

"That experience in 2015 has led to an amazing adventure over time and a number of opportunities for more students to learn the song and for us to travel to China. This is my fourth trip with students to China," she told China Daily in Beijing.

According to Eisenhauer, what has remained unchanged through all the trips is the generosity and friendliness of the people that they have met.

"My students love seeing the sites, they love the food, they love all of the culture, but it's the people they met that they talked the most about," she said.

Eisenhauer said her next goal is to try and learn a couple of other Chinese songs such as Friend and Jasmine Flower because "we're not just a one-hit wonder".

"I like the message of Friend. It's the message of what we are doing with friendship," she added.

Isaiah Long, an 11th-grade student of Lincoln High School, said he had a good time on Monday at Tsinghua University High School. "It was really fun. I was able to meet someone whose name is Sam and we went on talking on WeChat," he said.

Long thinks it is "cool" that a minor high school in Tacoma could be connected to such a big country as China.

Even Eisenhauer, the arts facilitator, said she didn't know in 2015 that the Chinese president had been to Tacoma and Lincoln High School before. She was referring to Xi's visit in 1993 as the then secretary of the Fuzhou Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China.

In 1994, Tacoma and Fuzhou became sister cities, thus starting a friendly connection that still continues and features Xi's exchanges and interactions with the students and school staff over the years.

Earlier in 2024, Xi and Peng replied to a Chinese New Year greeting card from teachers and students of Lincoln High School and invited them to visit China more often, so as to contribute to the friendship between the two peoples, especially among young people.

"It's hard to imagine that we could have such a personal connection, but after nine years and exchanging gifts and cards, I realize that it's true that Xi does know who we are," Eisenhauer said.

David Chong, president of the US-China Youth and Student Exchange Association in Washington, said the biggest challenge that he has encountered so far in promoting exchanges between the two countries' young people is "a lack of understanding about China" among many US parents because some still believe that China is a dangerous place to go to.

"But when I asked the kids how they felt about walking in downtown Beijing, they told me it's safe and totally different from the downtown in the US where they see a lot of homeless people," Chong said.

Chong said that inviting 50,000 young people from the US to visit China will help facilitate mutual understanding and build mutual trust between the people of China and the US.

"There is a family behind one student. And if we count in the families of Chinese students they meet, I think it's more than 1 million people that will be positively affected through the invitation," he said.

Romero-Rocha from Lincoln High School said that she found people here in China very similar to the people in the US.

"Even though sometimes you can't understand each other, we put in that effort to try," she said, showing a pin of the Monkey King that she purchased from a store in Beijing's Wangfujing Street.

"I don't speak Mandarin, but I was able to buy this pin by just pointing at it," she added.

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