By Ginger Werner
On July 18, several students from Mission San Jose High School embarked on a 23-day journey in China. Enrolled in an exclusive Chinese “Root Seeking Camp,” the students were given the incredibly rare opportunity to go to a camp that was run by the Chinese government, with the intention to give foreigners of Chinese descent the opportunity to meet other Chinese people and learn more about their culture. Students selected simply had to pay a basic fee and airplane fare; while meals, accommodations, and excursions were all sponsored by the government itself.
The first stop in the trip was Shanghai. Camp goers stayed in college dormitories and were taken on multiple shopping excursions to various museums. Students attended the Shanghai Expo, a world fair which received over 70 million visitors in 2010 alone. They also went to an acrobatics show and the Oriental Pearl, Shanghai’s tallest television tower, which offered a stellar view of the city.
The second stop in the trip was Beijing. The 5,000 students enrolled in the camp gathered in Tiananmen Square and were given an inspirational speech about uniting together to make a difference in the world. “It was amazing to be a part of so many people,” said Sophomore Christopher Cai. “I was overwhelmed and really felt like I was a part of something epic.” The students were taken to many famous historical sites, including the Forbidden City, Great Wall, and Summer Palace. They were also able to tour the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, phenomenal remnants from the Beijing 2003 Olympics. The camp also received a personalized video message from Jackie Chan and the daily activities of the students were covered by the national news on several occasions.
The camp ended after 10 days of fun and amazing experiences. After many tearful goodbyes, the Mission students then went to Chengdu, a province in the Sichuan area of China. The Sichuan province of China fell victim to a deadly 8.0 magnitude earthquake in 2008, which devastated the area and killed at least 68,000 people. The majority of the province was demolished, but the area had made an extraordinary recovery. Even though they were victims to a terrible tragedy their efforts to fundraise money to help rebuild paid off. The students went to the main cultural highlights of Chengdu – including its famous panda sanctuary, Er Mei Mountain, and the Leshan Giant Buddha.
On the final leg of the trip, the students went off to Mianzhu, another province in the Sichuan area of China. They visited more earthquake ruins, preserved so that the public could remember the tragedy that had occurred there. They were also given a unique opportunity, when a local middle school, recently rebuilt from the earthquake, opened its doors for the MSJ students to teach the middle school students in very nice classrooms, complete with Internet access and included meals. The students taught English at a school for several days, spending about 5 hours per day with the children; offering classes on American songs and music, geography, sports, and of course the English language itself. The children were incredibly grateful and bestowed their young teachers with gifts at the end of the trip. Said Junior Jaynelle Gao, “I really liked how the kids were super friendly and they were genuinely interested in what we taught them. I definitely think that we learned a lot from them too. And I think it’s great how we can still identify with each other even if we live on opposite sides of the world.”
The students from MSJ benefited a lot from attending this camp. They met Chinese people from Russia, Spain, Austria, France, Australia, and many other countries. It was fascinating to see how much their cultures varied, but at the same time how much they all had in common. Many only spoke Chinese and a language other than English, so they had to communicate and make friends using their common language, which made for some hilarious broken conversations, but many interesting ones as well.