Nǐ hǎo! For nearly two weeks this June, 19 North Carolina educators traveled to China on a World View Global Study Visit. The China Study Visit program goals included increasing educators’ knowledge and understanding about China’s history, diversity and complexity as well as its changing role in the contemporary world; increasing educators’ knowledge and understanding of China’s educational system and practices ; and enhancing educators’ personal and professional global competency capacities. This study visit proved to be transformative, impactful and inspirational.
Our study visit began in Beijing. The weather was hot and humid and a heavy layer of smog was evident as we touched down at Beijing Capital International Airport. We made our way directly from the airport to the 798 art district. This Bauhaus-style former industrial complex of Mao-era factories has been repurposed into a contemporary arts district filled with galleries, cafes and changing art installations.
Later that evening we experienced our first of many tasty, family-style meals in local restaurants in each city we visited. Our first full day in Beijing was filled with historical and cultural site visits and experiences including an exploration of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. In the afternoon, we learned about how silk is made at the Yuanlong Silk Workshop and enjoyed a traditional Beijing duck dinner. Our third day in Beijing was a highlight for everyone, with a visit to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. A little further off the beaten path than the heavily visited Badaling section, the Mutianyu section of the wall features rugged, steep climbs and breathtaking views. With excitement (and a few nerves for some) we boarded the chair lift to approach the Great Wall and rode toboggans back down! While in Beijing, we also explored the beautiful Summer Palace, enjoyed a dumpling-making lesson with a local family and explored the legendary (and vanishing) Beijing hutongs. Our final day in Beijing brought us our first of seven school visits. This high school visit proved to be a welcoming and engaging visit with many opportunities for conversation and exchange between teachers, students and the World View delegation.
We left Beijing for Xi’an via the smooth fast train, at times passing 300km per hour. Xi’an, formerly known as Chang’an, is the capital of Shaanxi Province and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. We were excited to explore the site of the legendary terracotta army and tried our hand at Chinese calligraphy with a visit to the Tangbo Folk Art Museum. Our group experienced the religious diversity of Xi’an with a visit to the Muslim Quarters and Great Mosque as well as an intimate conversation with a resident monk at the Qinglong Buddhist temple. We also enjoyed three school visits in Xi’an, including a visit to Xi’an University where we observed a number of classes and a foreign language high school where we had a lively exchange with teachers. Our visit to a rural primary school near the terracotta army site was a highlight for all!
We left Xi’an by plane for the southern city of Guilin. Arriving during the very humid rainy season, our first stop was a vocational school. We were greeted by a very warm welcome from the school as well as local paparazzi. Our group was interviewed by the local Guilin television news, in addition to visiting a number of classes and interacting with staff and students at the school. Our second day in Guilin provided the extraordinary opportunity to cruise the Li River. A three-hour tour down the river brought breathtaking views of karst mountains, hillside farms and grazing water buffalo before arriving in the village of Yangshuo. We also explored a rice paddy and the Reed Flute Cave and observed firsthand the ethnic diversity of the region. Guilin is home to a number of China’s 56 ethnic groups, including the Miao, Yao, Dong and the Zhuang.
Our final destination was Shanghai. We explored old Shanghai and its contrast to European-influenced areas such as the former French concession. Our visits to the Jade Buddha temple and the Shanghai Museum of ancient Chinese art were cultural highlights of our time in Shanghai. Our final two school visits included a kindergarten, where our group was astounded by the eco-campus and complex artwork created by students. Our very last school visit brought us to a primary school for migrant children in the Shanghai area. We had an incredible exchange with teachers and staff at the school where we were able to mutually share strategies and ask questions about working with migrant students, a commonality between the World View delegation and the local teachers. This visit proved to be one of the most inspiring. With the very high stakes testing environment for Chinese students, these students face many challenges in their educational journey. The principal praised his teachers, sharing that they choose to work there because they believe that all of their students deserve the very best opportunity for a good future. Their dedicated teachers inspired our delegation.
Throughout China, we saw hardworking students and dedicated teachers with a burning optimism and drive to give their students a chance for a bright future, no matter the circumstances. Educators are highly respected in China and we were welcomed everywhere we went. We were very fortunate to have so many interactions with students and educators at each school we visited. We learned so much throughout our journey and are grateful to have been part of the experience. We look forward to meeting again as a group in September for a follow-up workshop where we will reflect on the study visit and share our plans for implementing the experience into our practice as educators.