Foreign exchange trips connect global cultures

In April and May, Princeton High School hosted foreign exchange students from both Italy and China as part of an exchange program developed by members of the world language department. Language teachers and World Language Supervisor Priscilla Russel worked to organize several trips between Princeton and schools in Isernia, a province in southern Italy with 22,000 inhabitants where the city Pettoranello is located, as well as Qingdao, a city with a population of 2.7 million in eastern China.

For years, PHS and the town of Princeton have been building their relationship with their sister cities and schools. Although the exchange trips to and from Italy occurred for the first time this school year, Princeton and Pettoranello share a longstanding cultural bond, according to Italian teacher Joe Mazzarella. “There are so many families that are from Pettoranello that came to live and [make] their home in Princeton,” Mazzarella said. “[For] some of the [host] families here … it was kind of a research, so to speak, into their family roots.”

In the fall of 2014, PHS students taking Italian classes visited Italy, and the Italian students with whom they stayed came to Princeton in the spring. During the trip to Italy, students visited Princeton’s sister city, Isernia, as well as Rome. “They went to school; they followed their host family,” Mazzarella said. “Some of the families did individual side trips … always in that same region but within the vicinity of where they were staying.”

Similar to the Princeton students’ experience in Italy, Italian students’ visiting PHS involved seeing many local attractions during day trips planned by the school. “There were a lot of activities that were set up with the Princeton community … who assisted us in putting together … side trips to and around Princeton,” Mazzarella said. “They did a field trip to the Grounds for Sculpture, and there were a lot of activities that were set up with the Princeton community.” Students also attended trips to the University and to the Pettoranello gardens.

In addition to the Italian students, PHS also welcomed students from Qingdao. Students from Qingdao No. 2 Middle School, the equivalent of an American high school and PHS’s sister school, after participating in a Model United Nations session in New York, stayed in Princeton for a few days, visiting PHS and attending classes. Students from Qingdao stayed with PHS students such as Evan Hirschman ’16, who hosted Arthur Xie. “[Xie] followed me to my after-school activities,” Hirschman said. “I play golf so he walked around and did some photography … and he taught me how to say some of the things in golf in Chinese.”

Like the Italian students, after seeing PHS, Qingdao exchange students visited various sights around Princeton, from the University to shops in town. “We wanted to show them some things they might not have seen or heard of in China, but also some things that might be the same,” said Margaret Schrayer ’17, a Mandarin I student who hosted a student from Qingdao. “It was interesting thinking about how they might be perceiving what we had around us and what we were doing, and how it might be different from China.”

Because PHS’s connection with Qingdao is relatively new, the two schools are working to strengthen their bond. In the past, the PHS Orchestra has gone on tour in China to perform at Qingdao No. 2 Middle School. “[The trip in 2010 was] our first time to visit Qingdao No. 2 Middle School, but that time we only performed,” said Mandarin Teacher Shwu-Fen Lin. “We hope maybe in the future [Qingdao] can become [a] sister city with Princeton.”

Unlike the connection between Princeton and Pettoranello or Colmar—Princeton’s French sister city—Qingdao and Princeton’s sisterhood exists between the schools rather than the municipalities. “We signed a memorandum of agreement that we would set up a partner-school relationship [with Qingdao No. 2 Middle School],” Russel said. “And that really is the first formal partnership that Princeton High School has ever had.”

For some students, the exchange trips provided entirely new experiences. “I had never visited [the United States] before … so I was really [excited],” Erica Ferritti, an Italian student hosted by Trevisan, wrote in an email. “After [a] few days I learned to understand the people and to speak better in English … I had a good time and a good life experience.”

However, exchange trips can pose a financial problem for certain students. Trips can cost several thousands of dollars, which may dissuade potential participants in the program. “I wouldn’t really be interested in doing [an exchange trip] through the high school because I believe that it’s very expensive,” Schrayer said. “It would be more efficient to go as an adult … I’m not a huge fan of sight-seeing, and I would rather get to know people better instead of being led around with the group I’m in.”

Other issues students may face include the prospect of missing a week or more of school at once, and then having to deal with the consequences. “The one disadvantage is that you have a week of schoolwork to make up,” Trevisan said. “While you can do some of that on the plane ride … some of it, you have to do when you get back, like make up tests.”

Yet despite these obstacles, students continue to benefit from the exchange programs, gaining many new experiences and learning about other, foreign cultures, according to Trevisan. “One of the best ways you can understand how a culture is different is when somebody from that culture is in yours,” he said. “[Visiting] was like getting a firsthand eyewitness of what Italian life is like. It’s like nothing you can replicate in a book.”

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