I just got back from an amazing school trip to China. We went to Beijing, toured around for about 3.5 days, and then headed over to Shanghai for about 6 days. The kids had a very authentic experience -- in Beijing we were greeted by a partner school that did all kinds of performances as part of their welcome ceremony, and they also took us to one of their students' houses to show the kids how to make traditional northern dumplings. We ate a feast in that three-generation family's courtyard and the kids and the adults from the school sang spontaneously to entertain us, showing true Chinese hospitality in a way that you could not have explained to the kids in words beforehand. In Shanghai, our students stayed in host families -- an even more authentic experience. During the day, they went to classes with their host students in the morning (at a public middle school in Shanghai, with 60 kids and one teacher per class), and in the afternoons there were special activities planned for them, such as calligraphy class and traditional seal-cutting class. It was really neat; they really had a hard time picking out a favorite memory afterwards, because everything was so different. The teachers were wined and dined by the school as well, and even at the end, we enjoyed a spectacular performance of traditional instruments at our send-off party by this Shanghai school. The Shanghai school also had a plethora of extracurricular activities, such as Chinese orchestra (of traditional instruments), traditional Chinese opera (taught by a professional opera singer), and an English(!) drama class for 6th-graders, taught by an American! We got to see all of this in action, and our kids even got to participate in their Cinderella play-reading along with the Chinese students. Needless to say, it was a really unique and interesting experience!
For me, even though I had been to both Beijing and Shanghai before, this trip was a special experience. In Beijing, we had a fabulous guide who knew all the histories of the dynasties and leading up to the fairly recent introduction of communism in China. He was fabulous and truly an amazing character -- the kids wanted to take him with us to Shanghai! If you or your friends/family go to Shanghai, I would highly recommend looking this guide up well in advance (he books up quickly, sometimes months in advance); his name is Xiao Wei and you can reach him at weiyilun123 AT 126 DOT com.
In Shanghai, because I was there with 3 colleagues who were great fun, we went out one night and had a great time in the city. We had dinner on the Huangpu river, and then we went up to the top of one of the super posh hotels (costing around 1000 Euros a night) and had a drink at the top while overlooking the entire city. At 10pm, the city shuts down its lights to save energy, and we were there at the top while the blackout happened. It was really spectacular and special!
I also met up with my parents a few times during my stay in Shanghai, which was really awesome. They took me out to eat at one of the "famous" soup dumpling places that they had learned about from watching food programs on TV; for 35 very delicious soup dumplings and a bowl of noodles, we only paid a total of 38RMB for the three of us! (That is about 5 Euros total.) Amazing!
Another thing that made the trip special was to go to China with colleagues who had grown up in East Germany. A lot of the nuances which would have gone unnoticed by me (such as how certain people have power in the schools because they have shown loyalty to the party), did not go undetected by them. For example, did you know that in every school in China there is a special "Party Secretary" whose job is to ensure that the school does not speak or act in a way that is out of line with party politics? To hear the other teachers point out certain things and to also hear them speak of their own experiences back before the Berlin Wall came down, was fascinating for me and a great learning experience.
On the students' side, everything was pretty fabulous. In the beginning, we had some minor issues of lack of sensitivity towards the host culture, but by the end, the kids had seen and experienced so much kindness that they themselves were extremely grateful and gracious towards their host families. It was truly a cultural lesson you could not have brought to your school or taught in a vacuum.
And now, counting down till the end of school!
PS. I would have loooved to post some more photos from the trip, but I need to abide by school policy to not post student photos! Bummer... We even took some neat videos.