During spring break, 12 audacious high-school drama students from Durham, accompanied by eight adults and chaperones including their drama teacher, Wendell Tabb, took a trip half way across the world to the wondrous city of Beijing, China, to perform a unique mix of dialogue and song.
“Ni Hen Zhong Yao” the U.S. students projected in Chinese, meaning “You are important,” as they artistically provided a capella songs inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Gandhi to several hundred Chinese middle school students on April 1 at Beijing Huijia Private School.
“A major part of learning is to expose students to different cultures,” said Tabb, who has directed drama workshops nationally and internationally. “The Professional-Student Theatre Exchange Program gives our students the opportunity to promote and improve our social and academic communications with other schools globally.”
On April 3, the students performed at Jiayu Public School and afterward engaged in a classroom cultural exchange. “It was easy to connect … because deep down we're all just teenagers and share common interest,” Hillside senior John Carter Jr. said. “I wanted to know how much their family structure influences their career choices.”
Coincidently, the Jiayu School students have a U.S. cultural exchange with a high school just 20 miles from Hillside in Apex, N.C.
As students visited China’s most famous attractions – the Forbidden City, Tiannamen Square, the Great Wall, the Lama Temple, and the Summer Palace – they described the trip as enthralling. (See photos at globallinkchina.org/Hillside).
Dominque Cassamajor, a junior from Hillside, reflected, “From pushing physical limitations on the Seventh Wonder of the world (the Great Wall) to moments of paparazzi (frantic requests for picture taking from Chinese bystanders) to the awe inspiration of indigenous architecture … this was an indescribable adventure.”
While the students captivated their young audiences with an educational performance, they too gained an education in differentiating real jade and silk by visiting the jade factory and silk market corporation before shopping on their own. Songwei, an English teacher, invited the students to a home-visit to eat Chinese dumplings prepared by her family and later arranged for students to experience strawberries and other vegetables growing at one of Beijing’s largest agricultural farms.
Students experienced a crowded subway ride with hundreds of people, a glimpse of China’s national symbol, the giant panda, and even a Chinese amusement park. “Our theater students were totally immersed in the Chinese culture and learned so much from the experience,” Tabb said.
The 10 days of educational and cultural visits abroad were arranged by globallinkchina.org in collaboration with Joy! Cruises and Tours Inc. It’s evident the students shared a real part of themselves and truly received a lifetime gift of language and culture exchange.
Angela Hicks is the director of Global Link China.