China #26: Final Reflections

Trip Leaders Xiaofeng Kelly and Cindy Feng share excerpts of the group’s final reflections of their time in China, where students spent a month immersed in Chinese language and culture.

Mia Silberstein ’20

“Perhaps the most moving moment of this trip for me has been our visit to the Inner Mongolian school, where we sang and danced with the children and toured the facilities. At the time, we had no prior knowledge of the children’s situation, yet afterwards, we learned that many of them had been separated from their parents so that they may have a chance at a better life, and were instead living with their grandparents or within the dorms. It was difficult and heartbreaking for me to imagine being so independent so early in life — as early as kindergarten — yet I soon came to realization that I would never truly understand the same feeling of loneliness or isolation, and that it would be somewhat conceited and short-sighted to try to understand their experience through my own. Over the course of this trip, it has been difficult for me to view someone else’s situation without immediately attempting to liken it to mine, as I have found that this is the way in which I strive to understand others. However, in some cases, though empathy is always valuable, I have learned that seeing a situation for what it is and reflecting on it within context is a skill that will serve me well going forwards. I will never truly understand how the children felt, but I saw their faces and the loneliness and desire for connection within them, and that in itself is enough to make me reflect upon my own privilege and how I may use it to help those less fortunate.”

Vera Menafee ’20

“Preparing for my first venture out of the country, I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready to delve into whatever our trip had in store. I tried to eat every dish put in front of me, use the language whenever possible, and remain in the moment to absorb all I could. During our time in Inner Mongolia, we visited a K-6 boarding school called Xiwang Gongcheng (The Hope Program). Students and faculty welcomed us at the gate and led us inside to greet glowing faces. The little ones showed us performance after performance and we returned the favor with some of our own. It warmed my heart going back and forth, sharing and blending our cultures in a packed room, and watching everything they worked so hard on was even more enjoyable…When I return to Deerfield, I want to make sure I remember those opportunities, and will do my best to remind others of them as well. I also hope to welcome every new student and guest on campus, as I was greeted so thoughtfully here. I want to work much harder to understand everyone I meet, and respect and acknowledge their humanity. I am so grateful to have experienced things I never could have anywhere else. This has been unforgettable and I can’t wait to see more of the world, and return to China again. But, for now, I bid this beautiful land adieu.”

Kathryn Hioe ’20

“There were many moments that made this trip special and memorable but one stood out over the others. It was in Beijing when we were staying at Shiyan. It was one of the first days and we were going to join classes with 8th graders. Going into the day I was hesitant because we had just arrived and I wasn’t sure if they would just be speaking Chinese to us and if it would be to hard to understand and communicate. As we walked into the classroom, I spotted a girl holding a sign with my name on it. I walked over and she smiled and introduced herself in perfect English. Her name was Eva. After sitting down, I also introduced myself, slightly relieved that I could speak English. We spent the next 20 minutes talking about Beijing and her life in Beijing… This moment was special to me because it was the first time that I felt comfortable and more at home since arriving in China. I was able to make friends who are so sweet and welcoming. They were so eager to help and teach us and I wish that we were able to go back and spend another day with the 8th graders because it was such a great experience and there was still so much to talk and learn about from them. Even after that half day, I learned and gained so much from spending time with Eva and all the 8th graders.”

Francis Shea ’20

“Coming into this trip my main focus was to improve my Chinese. However at first I underestimated the difficulty of this task. In the beginning I was often timid about speaking Chinese and would frequently ask a friend to translate. I became discouraged by the fact that I could hardly understand what people were saying and that I could usually not formulate proper Chinese responses. After coming to this realization I focused hard during the Chinese class hours and began trying more and more to speak proper Chinese. My first solo conversation with a Chinese native was on our flight to Inner Mongolia. None of my peers or teachers were around to help so my conversation with this woman was purely between her and myself. We talked about where I was from and what I was doing in China: I answered the best that I could and asked her some questions of my own. We spoke mostly Chinese with some English, but after we finished I finally understood what Kelly老师 told us right before the trip. She told us we would be scared to speak in the beginning but as we went on we would become more open with our Chinese abilities. I felt confident after my conversation with the woman on the plane even though I knew that some of my sentence structures were wrong and that I spoke really slow I was happy with my effort to get better at this complex but interesting language. As this trip comes to a close, not only have I learned so much of the culture in China I have become so much more confident in my ability to use and learn Chinese.”

Nathan Hu ’19

“Reflecting back on the past month, it all feels like it has gone by too fast. A plethora of life changing experiences were all compressed into a 28 day trip. Even in this trunk of moments, there is one that shines brightest. Visiting the elementary school in Inner Mongolia and seeing the brightest smiles from children who all had so much less than me will forever stay strong in my memory. The media as well as my family’s conversations cracked the door on what life was like in the most remote and poor parts of China, but I never had the courage or opportunity to swing open the door and face reality. The screech of the bus tires allowed us to see the 希望小学 (Hope School) sign and swung the door open. Two lines of small, elementary school children joyfully awaited our arrival, but I noticed that something was different. It took almost 15 minutes for a pair of brownish hazel eyes to stare into my life and help me realize what “something” was. As he looked into me, I too was given a glimpse of the suffering and hardship he has had to endure without the support I had. As Kelly Laoshi later put it, you could see in their eyes that they needed love. While our presence as foreigners managed to fill their faces with smiles and the room with laughter, I felt helpless. There was so little that I could do to help that little boy staring back at me, yet he managed to open the door I never thought I’d have the courage to open. My life was invariably changed and I hope I will be able to use this experience as motivation to create change for kids who deserve the world.”

Sam Bronckers ‘ 20

“During my time in China I have learned so many new things and have made so many memories. To my experience, I have learned the most from the people that we have met as every person and their stories taught me something new every time… However, one moment in particular stood out to me, namely playing basketball with two Shiyan High school students. This was one of my first interaction with the local students and I loved every single second of it; we first both introduced each other and told a little bit more about ourselves. I instantly felt mutual genuine interest for both our stories and differences in culture. I not only had fun, but also learned a lot about them and life in Beijing and Shiyan High school. I only started to feel nervous when we started playing basketball, however; I was immediately impressed by their ball-handling and agility, and I was not sure whether my short year of playing a bit of basketball in my free time at Deerfield could save me from eternal embarrassment. Luckily, everything turned out to be just fine and I was finally both drenched in sweat and sad to have to say goodbye. The intensity and fun of playing sports combined with using Chinese to communicate made for an unforgettable experience that I will cherish forever.”

Fernanda Ponce ’19

“Our last night in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, was my favorite of the whole trip. Right across from the hotel, there was a park with families taking a stroll around the lake, and people laughing and dancing in one of the courtyards. This instantly made me feel right at home as I thought about all the summer gatherings my family and friends would have, which always ended with people dancing to Spanish Latin music. I was standing at the edge of the crowd, grinning from ear to ear, when a woman right next to me turned and started a conversation (in Chinese course). I told her where I was from and so forth, when she offered me to dance. I am by no means a good dancer, but I still love to dance! I accepted and she was very patient with me as she tried to teach me how to follow the rhythm of the music, while I accidentally stepped on her toes.This small moment out of the 28 days we have been on this summarizes how welcomed almost everyone in China has made me feel. Even if I can only sometimes say “谢谢”, people are quick to tell me that my Chinese sounds good (“听好的! 非常棒!”) ”

Valentina Saldarriaga ’20

“I’ve had an amazing time in China, and learning about a country whose history dates back thousands of years has been amazing. Coming to China, was a bit rattling but it has put the world into perspective a bit for me. Our first destination on the trip, and I would have to say my favorite, was the Great Wall of China. Growing up I always heard about it and saw pictures of it or saw it in movies but I would have never imagined that I would one day be standing on it. Going there that day was eye opening, as it was hard to fully grasp that this brick structure I was standing on had taken decades to build and thousands of lives as well. The fact that the wall was also hundreds of years old as well was interesting to put in perspective. As someone who has never experienced ancient culture, it was interesting to think that the entire country has more history then most of North and South America combined. Overall, this trip has been an amazing experience and I am very privileged to have been given this opportunity. I can not imagine all the work that was put in so 14 Deerfield students could spend 28 days here. I learned so much about China and its people, and practiced my language skills. I am so grateful that I can carry the experiences from the last month with me for the rest of my life.”

Jane Mallach ’20

“Like many of the other students on the trip, I had my favorite moment in Inner Mongolia at a school we went to. All of us were blown away by the elementary school students as they performed us songs, dances, and Kongfu. The kids were super adorable and clearly had worked super hard to show us. We all had such a great time with them and wished we could have stayed longer. Afterwards on the bus, Kelly Laoshi told a little more about the children we had just spent time with. Most of them board at the school, even as young as kindergarten age. They do this because their parents have moved to cities like Bejing to earn more money, and on weekends go home to their grandparents. After finding this out we all felt a much bigger attachment to the children. While going to visit the school seemed like a small moment, seeing these kids was truly special to me. Being able to step out of my comfort zone and go to China, has been an extremely eye-opening and unique experience, and I will carry it with me whenever I go.”

Xochitl Paez ’20

“Visiting China is definitely an experience I will cherish and look back on for the rest of my life. One of the greatest things I will take away from this trip is the importance of appreciation for what I have. The moment where this lesson really sank in for me was when our group was in Inner Mongolia and we went to visit school children in a village nearby. All of these kids had so much excitement and happiness in their face as soon as they laid eyes on us, their smiles were so contagious. They were all so polite and kind as they demonstrated all the hard work they had put into this visit. As we walked around the school it was clear that these kids were really working hard to do their best and make the most out of the education they were receiving. After we left the school Kelly Laoshi told us the truth about the lives that most of these kids had. We found out about how a vast majority of these kids were boarders and only went home on weekends when they would return to their grandparents. Their parents had moved to the city to work in order to provide for them, they rarely saw them. I was taken aback by how much joy these kids showed while we visited them and how open they were to the world around them. They sang songs about growing up and helping others. It was really humbling to see kids with so little want to give everything they could to the world. I know I’ll bring this lesson with me wherever I go, especially back to Deerfield. I want to work harder on projects that I know will be beneficial to others around me and will have a positive contribution not only to myself and my community but as far as I can extend my help.”

Logan Armes ’20 

“The last 28 days have flown by in a whirlwind of flights, sights and experiences. Each one equally as thrilling as the last. While doing this it is hard to fully appreciate and understand how significant and special each one of these places truly are. Whether it be a crowded and covered in neon shopping street in Beijing, a setting sun over the fields of inner Mongolia, watching the sun rise in the Deserts of Dunhuang, or taking in the city lights over Shanghai, it is difficult in the moment to see how privileged you are to be there at that exact moment in time. When looking back though, we are able to reflect on what we’ve done and how lucky we are to be afforded these experiences… Along the banks of a river in Shanghai as we stared out on to the city a man passed us and uttered the word “xinke”, a word meaning something like thoughtfulness. After hearing that, I realized that is what this trip has done for me, given me the ability to be thoughtful and appreciative of where and when I am. China to me is a super special place that is filled with amazing technology, but is also steeped in tradition. It is a place that deeply saddens me to leave but excites me to return to.”

Annie Kane ’20

“I think the biggest thing I have gained from this trip is a new perspective on the world around me. I have never been somewhere that is so different from everything I am used to, and that has taught me a lot about how to be humble when learning new things and how to find beauty in the things I don’t understand or relate to. At first I really did not like the school we stayed at in Beijing, because it was stark and intimidating and the kids seemed to only study. However, after meeting with kids and finding shared interests with them and living in their home for two weeks, I was incredibly mistaken. We talk so much at Deerfield about empathy and inclusion, but I realized that you can’t fully comprehend someone until you are quite literally plopped into their world. Unfortunately, we cannot all travel the globe and live in every person we meet’s hometown, but the simple search for understanding is so much more important than I realized.”

Allison Xia ’21

“From the historical city of Beijing, to the less industrialized cities of Hohhot, Ordos, and Dunhuang, our trip has come to a conclusion in the modern bustling city of Shanghai. Throughout our time in China, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring various areas of country and learning what each place has to offer, differing immensely geographically but all united under one continuous culture. One of my favorite memories was visiting the Hope Elementary School in Inner Mongolia. To see the students, although who live at school the same as we do, come from backgrounds that differ from ours in almost every way imaginable. Observing the joy that the teachers bring to the school and the ability the government has to change lives of children with slim chance of seeing the world otherwise was amazing to see and really proved how determined the  as a whole is to progress through every individuals life. Additionally, I was thankful for the trip because it gave us an opportunity to use our language skills in everyday types of situations, whether it be purchasing movie tickets to see Incredibles 2, interacting with cashiers at the local convenience store, or even asking directions to get somewhere. I’ve learned how to make connections between two very different cultures while improving my ability to break the barriers of social interactions that the language creates.”