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29 OF OUR PUPILS GOT A GOOD DOSE OF CULTURE SHOCK WHEN THEY VISITED CHINA IN OCTOBER

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On a warm Sunday noon, myself and 28 other eager students along with three of the most patient teachers I have ever come across set off on a 12-hour journey to a country we had learnt so much about but never actually visited. The excitement was palpable, the preparation for such an excursion had been immense and in the weeks leading up to the trip I had scarcely been able to think of much else.

The first experience we had in this foreign land was legally entering the country through border control, and suffice to say whilst it was the first activity we did, it would not be our most extraordinary. Our first meal in China was certainly interesting though, as I slowly struggled to build a working relationship with my chopsticks I knew I would have to improve. Mr flowers had even suggested documenting my cutlery-based issues in the hope of having some sort of uplifting video by the end of the trip, highlighting my newfound mastery over these cruel instruments. The food throughout the trip was excellent, I was able to try so many new dishes and developed a real appreciation for Chinese Green Tea. My particular favourite was a sautéed beef we were served at the Exchange School in Chengdu, as it was not the most popular dish among my compatriots that evening I was able to finish the whole plate myself; a truly satisfying achievement.

In Beijing, we were fortunate enough to visit the life-affirming Tian An Men Square, the place where General Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China back in 1949. The square contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of General Mao himself. The size of square initially amazed me but then I took a closer look at everything and noticed the detail that had been put into the monuments, the fake vase of flowers, even the unity symbolising statues seemed as if they had been planned and created with meticulous precision. The Emperor’s Summer Palace was luxurious and majestic, filled with intricate interior designs and fantastic colours of green. Furthermore, the fauna present at the palace accentuated the regal feel of the area, truly encapsulating myself and my class mates as we walked through the long corridor. Beijing was unlike any city I had ever seen before; for a start, it was the biggest city I had ever visited, on a scale the likes of which my eyes had never previously set themselves upon. It was a city that seemed permanently hinged upon the edge of a beautiful chaos, yet also restrained in some ways, the people we interacted with showed a kindness to foreigners so uncommon now in this world and I will be longing to return.

Having sadly left the beautiful Beijing we bravely ventured on, flying to the charming Chengdu. Our stay in Chengdu was brief, we were there less than a day before driving down to the town next to the Bazhong Language School who would be our most caring of hosts over the next two days. All students boarded at the school meaning it was enormous, having to house and educate over 1000 students. It had the feel of a university campus and facilities not too dissimilar to one. Upon arrival, we had a quick reception before launching straight into a lunch with our Chinese pen pal. It would be untrue of me to say those first conversations were easy, both me and my pen pal Hank (Zhang Zi Hao) had never met before and there was a very obvious language barrier filtering the flow of any conversation. However, much to my delight by the end of the lunch we spoke both in Chinese and English with ease and relish, learning much about our differing cultures. After lunch, I attended Hank’s English and chemistry lessons, and the differences between the Bazhong School lessons and Highgate School Lessons were extraordinary. Their class size was around 40 and lessons centred around a call and response format I had never seen being done at Highgate. I had one of the most enjoyable games of football of my life playing with several Highgate Students and many of the Chinese teachers. It was great to see two different nations united under the beautiful game and the fun yet challenging games we played with our pen pals in the evening of the second day only furthered my love for the school. It was truly one of the most interesting and informing experiences of my life and I was sad to leave.

Our sadness in departure turned quickly to joy as we visited a Chengdu Kindergarten. Never have I been more filled with joy than I was when helping a class of 20 young Chinese kids, they were attentive, eloquent, adorable and they melted my heart instantly. I can’t put into words the overwhelming emotion that swelled in me when I was given a handmade gift from the class and I will always look back on our brief time there with great fondness.

Our last stop at Chengdu was to see the Xiong Mao at the Panda Sanctuary, again cute beyond belief, but also saddening to know that these solitary and peaceful creatures are heavily endangered and will never be seen by the majority of the world. There were literal squeals of delight coming from our group as we gazed upon a group of sleeping baby pandas.

From Chengdu to Xi’An and from one of the cutest sights to one of the most impressive: The Terracotta Warriors did not fail to disappoint. Standing over the first clay filled pit myself and Mika immediately understood why they are one of the Great Wonders of the World. The size of the project is unimaginable, they are over 2000 years old yet still being excavated and restored. Our final flight was back to Beijing, we had come full circle yet we still had one more landmark to visit. The Great Wall of China was a favourite of the group’s, as it presented a challenge for us all: how quickly could you reach the summit of the wall and who could take the most dangerous summit photo? It was a mesmerising and euphoric way to end an incredible trip and looking back on those 10 days I can truly say it was the best experience of my life. Thanks to the teachers for guiding, helping and looking after us and thanks to Mrs Wallis for giving us such a unique and amazing experience!

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