Students react to the first PHS exchange trip to China

Traveling over 7,000 miles from Princeton to Qingdao, the PHS Mandarin students began their 12-day trip to China. During the first trip to East Asia offered by the PHS language department­, students practiced speaking the language in a more authentic setting and experienced Chinese culture firsthand.

The trip was separated into three parts: four nights at a homestay in Qingdao, three nights in Xi’an, and two nights in Beijing.

“My favorite part was seeing my students speak Chinese, talk to other people, use their Mandarin well—I was happy to see it. They’re so cute,” Mandarin teacher Shwu-Fen Lin said. “The homestays were good, students [spent] lots of time with the families, learned a lot of the language. They also learned how to barter … They had never done that [before].”

For some of the 30 students who went, acclimatizing to many of the Chinese customs and daily habits took some time.

“Adjusting to some of the basic parts of life—like traffic, … driving (they don’t wear seatbelts), and …  bathrooms—[was] really hard. It was just so normal to them, but [we were] like, ‘What’s going on?’” Britney Ward ’15 said.

Communicating in Mandarin also proved challenging, but it forced the students to practice and improve their speaking skills.

“[At first], you’re racking your brains for new words [because] actually talking to and in front of people [is] a lot different from talking about the weather in class,” Ritika Poddar ’14 said.

Eric Ham ’15 said that conversing with his host parents during the homestay was not always easy. “[We] were fully immersed in the culture and the language … It was a little difficult understanding the adults, [but] the way [the kids] spoke was much more understandable,” Ham said.

Despite the language barrier, many of the students said the homestay was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. Before departing, the students were assigned to their own Chinese host students, whose families they lived with for four nights and with whom they accompanied to school for one day.

“You get a really authentic experience, staying with [the host family and] … just seeing how they [live] their daily lives. And going to the school … and seeing the class [was interesting],” Emily Klockenbrink ’15 said.

Ward shared positive experiences and said she formed a relationship with her host family during her stay.

“My [host] family was lovely,” Ward said. “My [host] mom taught me how to make these special homemade dumplings that were passed down in her family …  I had a lot of fun.”

According to many of the students, the visit to the Great Wall was another significant part of the trip.

“You see so many pictures of it … Once you go there, it’s just amazing to see,” Poddar said.

After climbing part of the wall, the students had a picnic lunch on the monument.

“[The Great Wall] is so beautiful … When you’re up there, you’re in a different world, and I just loved it,” Ward said.

Bonnie Davis ’14 brought home a different memory from the Great Wall, which she considered a highlight of the trip.

“We went to … Xi’an, and [a friend and I] tandem biked around the entire wall. [At night], the lights went on, and it was one of the most beautiful things ever … [Definitely] my favorite part,” Davis said.

Lin said future PHS Mandarin classes will also have the opportunity to travel to China.

“I think the trip went very well, [and I] plan to do this trip every two or three years … [so the students have] more ways to experience the culture,” Lin said.