William & Mary

Building Bridges and Fostering Growth: My Journey to China

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“Just as the lotus awakens,
Our experience in China grows and blossoms within us
Everywhere we go, we will spread our seeds of knowledge…”

(from “Lotus Flower” by Molly Brueger, Chinese Bridge Summer Camp 2012)

With the support of the College of William and Mary Confucius Institute, I traveled to China with the College Board from November 6th through November 13th, 2014, as part of the 2014 Chinese Bridge Delegation. The amazing adventure provided opportunities for us to observe Chinese education and to form partnerships with Chinese schools and opened our eyes to the fascinating and remarkable world of modern China. The trip brought together school and district leaders from many states, including West Virginia, New England, Utah, California, Louisiana, and Virginia.

Our journey began in Beijing, where we visited Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), the sponsor of the 2014 Chinese Bridge Delegation to China. We learned of their initiative to promote Chinese culture and language education, as well as their focus on the building of relationships between students and educators worldwide in order to deepen the understanding of cultures. A tour of the Hanban building exposed us to the beauty and depth of traditional Chinese culture, from cloisonné to jade carvings, paper cutting, painting, costuming, medicine and history. In addition, we viewed Chinese educational materials designed for Western students. In the afternoon, Zhang Minxuan, professor at Shanghai University and  champion of Chinese education for over thirty years, and Yang Huilin, professor of comparative literature and religious studies at Renmin University, offered key perspectives on the development, success, and future of Chinese basic education, as well as emerging cultures-- meets East and East meets West: All Children Win. The points of view were enlightening and brought much reflection for Western educators as we pondered our role in this process.

A second day in Beijing found us boarding the bus early to visit the Great Wall and then Tiananmen Square. The majestic mountains and impressive architecture laden with symbols of Chinese Culture—phoenix, dragon, lotus, and guardian creatures—provided a visual representation of the tradition and excellence. The wall itself was awe-inspiring—and physically challenging. Afterwards, a delicious Peking duck dinner and quick shopping at the Silk Market followed. Bus rides to and from the hotel allowed us to view the bustling city and more tranquil countryside as we contemplated the layers of thousands of years of history and tradition. There was plenty of good conversation and many questions arose from both sides.

On November 9th, we boarded a China Air flight to Hefei, capital of Anhui province, to meet the teachers, administrators, and students who were welcoming us into their schools. During our stay, we visited three schools (I personally visited two middle schools and a high school). Prior to these visits, we had traveled to the Anhui Museum, a wonderful surprise, for it acquainted us with bronze artifacts, jade, and musical instruments of the province’s culture, some dating back to 1000 BC.  We also dined at a restaurant and enjoyed many outstanding local foods: lotus root, wood fungus, bok choy with garlic, local tea, red and rice wine, and watermelon. During our school visits, we were impressed with the school campuses, which were large: the high school seemed to be similar to an American community college in size. Our visit was informative and enjoyable: we observed art, calligraphy, English, chemistry, physical education, and Chinese language classes. The polite and welcoming students eagerly invited us to participate in their lessons: we danced, practiced writing Chinese characters, and conversed in English. Additionally, we were able to note the differences and similarities between Chinese and American schools, especially one critical point for us as educators: students are students, no matter the culture. The warmth of their smiles, their desire to interact, and their friendships with each other all reassured us of the commonalities bind us together. During and after the observations, we conversed with Chinese teachers and administrators to further our understanding of school in China, to foster partnerships between schools, and to facilitate potential exchanges of information, including signing Memorandums of Understanding which stated that “[we] consider the encouragement and development of cooperation and exchange in academic areas of mutual interest as desirable.” I most enjoyed our session with the high school teachers, when we exchanged information about things like the school day, assessment, planning time, student responsibilities, curriculum, and class size.

Early in the day on November 11th, we returned to Beijing to debrief and learn from each other. Because different groups had visited different provinces, we shared experiences and information about the deep history of Chinese education with each other. Everyone was in awe of the evolving modern Chinese educational objectives. In addition, we attended breakout sessions to learn about setting up programs in our own districts, assisting Chinese teachers with transition to US schools, and utilizing Confucius Institute programs to promote Chinese language and culture in our schools. I am delighted to participate in a process that encourages the development of our students as global citizens who are appreciative of other cultures. 

When we left for the airport, our flight was postponed for a day due to mechanical issues. Qi Bing, a researcher at VCU, and his wife, were also on the flight. On our extra day in Beijing, they took us on a walk through a portion of the city, and we visited the 798 Art Zone. Their kindness and willingness to allow us to accompany them on their last day in Beijing is testimony to the warm-heartedness of the Chinese people. 

This is my second visit to China through the William and Mary Confucius Institute, and I thank the individuals who have allowed me to see China through the eyes of both American and Chinese students and educators. I know that I am fortunate to have made so many good friends at the Institute, to have experienced the warmth and hospitality of a rich and fascinating culture, and to know that we can all commit to working together on some critical global issues. We are all one in spirit, and we can move together to create harmony and mutual respect, despite our differences, if we embrace each other with a feeling of trust.