WHS Exchange students share experiences in China


Credit: Courtesy of Robin Rossi

Pictured above are the seven Wayland WHS students who went to China: Myle Larsen, Edmond Giang, Julia Treese, Andrew Briasco-Stewart, Nathan Hochberger, Clarissa Briasco-Stewart and John Batarekh at the summer palace in Beijing. WSPN interviewed the students about their experience in China.

Nathan Zhao

When did you first decide you wanted to go on the trip?

Freshman Julia Treese: I first decided in seventh or eighth grade when the students who had gone on previous trips came and showed us pictures during Chinese class. They told us how fun it was.

Freshman Edmond Giang: I first decided after the presentation that [trip leader Donna] Fong gave us and I was interested in learning in the culture and people.

Freshman Myle Larsen: I was thinking about it when Ms. Fong came to our Mandarin class and explained it to us, but after the 9th graders then came and told us how great the trip was, I decided I wanted to go.

Freshman Nathan Hochberger: I first heard about it in seventh grade.

Freshman Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: In eighth grade when students came to our Chinese class to make a presentation about it, my twin [Andrew Briasco-Stewart], my cousin [Treese], and I joked about going on the trip together. We didn’t actually think we would go on it. And then we talked about it more and realized that maybe we actually would want to go on the trip, and later we finally decided.

Freshman Andrew Briasco-Stewart: After an informational showing where a previous year’s exchange group came to our classroom in eighth grade.

Freshman John Batarekh: Roughly ¾ of the way through 8th grade, some kids from the year before us came and presented to the entire 8th grade Chinese class. From then on, I decided that I wanted this experience, and I was determined to do it.

How did your workload in China compare with your workload in Wayland?

Treese: We mostly took non-academic classes and learned more about culture, except for our English class, which we took with them. We also had to complete some Wayland work from WHS. I think for the exchange students, there’s more work here, but I think Chinese students in general have more homework than we do.

Giang: In China, our work is based off of the work the program gives us, mostly. It consists of some books, tests and quizzes to work on. But, Wayland work was minimal, and we didn’t have to do too much. I definitely usually have more work here in America, but the Chinese students definitely have more work than we do here.

Larsen: It was much easier [in China]. I had a few assignments I had to do, but I only had a couple classes that I was responsible for in China.

Hochberger: The workload in China was so much more.

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: It seemed lighter in China. We did a lot more vacation-type stuff. It wasn’t a vacation, but we went on a lot of trips during the school day and on weekends.

Andrew Briasco-Stewart: I would say it’s slightly greater in China. You have work in China given by the school there and you also have some work from Wayland that you have to do in China. But, it’s not that hard to manage. The kids in China definitely have more work than we do, though.

Batarekh: Well, I didn’t really take the Chinese classes, and I didn’t have to do homework from their Chinese classes. I had one Chinese class that was a Wayland Chinese class; we got a teacher from their school who spoke good English and good Chinese. We had homework from that class. And then we had to do this giant project and research paper on a Chinese topic. That was big and it took a lot of time, and we had to turn it in on iBook. All that, at the end, amounted to what I do in one afternoon in America, but the difference is that in China, we had to do work from our classes here in Wayland. Also, there school goes way longer than ours, so my host sibling Lydia and I didn’t get home until 6:30-7pm, and by then I barely can work so I had to do most of my work at school. I guess work was lighter in China, since all my classes were and are pass/fail now. But it wasn’t as stressful.

What was the biggest cultural difference you noticed between the U.S. and China?

Treese: I think the structure of school was the biggest difference.

Giang: School. A lot of the kids don’t have time to do outside activities, and most of the time they spend the entire day at school. When they come home, they study, eat dinner, study again and sleep. In America, [however], we have time for sports and other activities.

Larsen: I noticed that there were a lot of cultural differences, but I’d say in China, all of the little kids don’t want to use the restroom so they will just pull down their britches and [go to the bathroom] on the sidewalk. Also there’s a lot of traffic – it’s pretty constant – even though the public transportation is big.

Hochberger: Driving. Nobody ever stopped when turning a corner.

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: The culture about personal space, which applies to China and Asia in general. There are less guidelines for personal space rules in China. Physical contact is OK between friends. I got used to all the female friends I made in China hugging me and holding my hand all the time.

Andrew Briasco-Stewart: The way families have one child and how school is such an important thing for them, because I feel like the students dedicate almost all their time to getting good grades in school. They take lots of classes and try to make their future better.

Batarekh: I guess it’s the way families function, in my opinion. Some may say government; one thing their government tries to do is deny the fact that there is a government, but the families are really different here. My family teaches me to be independent, but in China I think that independence is learned by the kids themselves and adults are always trying to give as much as they can to the kids. There’s this concept of filial piety from Confucius that we learned about. It’s pretty much when the parents treat their kids with great respect, but when the parents get old and can’t work anymore, the children can fund the parents to help them survive.

Were student interactions and social life different in China? How?

Treese: I think a lot of it is the same; they are people like we are. Their friendships and everything were the same.

Giang: They’re almost the same as us; all the kids talk and socialize. Lots of them are friends with each other, even like the girls and boys. They’re stuck in the same classroom the entire day, so they have really close bonds with each other. But sometimes, they can act a little immature, because all they do is go to school, so they don’t have any experience outside of school.

Larsen: They’re much more different in China because students spoke broken English rather than normal English here.

Hochberger: The student interaction was different because they spend every school day at school doing homework. So, they have no free time.

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: [Social interactions] were less casual for most of the trip, because I didn’t know most of the students as well. After lunch a few days I went to the back field. There, there was a group of kids my age in the grade that we were exchanging with. They were standing there, and I joined them. They started telling jokes in Chinese I couldn’t understand, but they were making fun of each other and teasing each other. I couldn’t participate much with them, though. The social interactions were mostly the same, it’s just there were some cultural differences. They don’t talk about the same things [as we do in America]; instead of talking about a sports game or a celebrity or politics, they’ll talk about random jokes they have.

Andrew Briasco-Stewart: Not that I noticed. There were still the usual social groups and sports groups. I would say people within get along better with other people in a class better than they do here, since they stay in one room for the entire day. The teachers rotate, except for Music and Band classes where you go to specialized classrooms.

Batarekh: Yeah, they were different. In America, usually when you go out you go to your friends’ house after school or on the weekends. Beijing, on the other hand, is a city, so that makes it hard to travel from one house to another. But they still do it if they’re good friends. My host sibling, Lydia, had two friends, Jessica and Zoe, and she would constantly go over to their houses. I went with them sometimes. Other times, people don’t get the chance to visit, because you can’t visit [friends] on a school day unless you’re going over for dinner, which is what Lydia would do. But social life is mostly people in one class being friends with one another. They chat during lunch, recess or the 10-minute breaks in between classes. Also, they have lots of extra classes on the weekends and such, so they don’t have much time to do homework. It’s just crazy, I think, but that’s what they do.

What surprised (culturally, socially) you most in China?

Treese: Nothing surprised me a lot, there were some things that I was a little surprised about, like school. They go to school much longer, as they start at 8 am and they have extra classes until 5:30 pm. Even younger students usually don’t get released until 4pm. There aren’t really many sports or clubs; the schools really focus on academics there.

Giang: The food. There was a lot of weird food there. Like I ate a scorpion. It tasted alright; it was alive.

Larsen: There were a lot of American restaurants. There was a Pizza Hut, a KFC and more everywhere. And I ate at them, too. There was a lot of American influence in China.

Hochberger: Nothing really, other than a few little things, like the driving and the amount of schoolwork.

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: I went to a birthday party friend of mine, Lucy, the student who hosted Ms. Fong. Her family bought her a birthday cake, and I learned that in China, when people have birthday parties, they buy birthday cakes in big boxes that come with plates and forks and all sorts of things. It’s kind of weird, and it surprised me.

Andrew Briasco-Stewart: There were lots of little things in the beginning, and having been there for 6 weeks I got used to them. Driving was definitely a surprise; it was quite hectic and pretty different from American driving.

Batarekh: Living in the city, I wasn’t a witness to a lot of poverty. I know that poverty exists in most of rural China, but in Beijing there was surprisingly less homeless and/or poor people on the street. Our teacher, Ms. Fong, told us that the poor walked around, but sometimes you couldn’t see them. Anyone who was driving the cheap trucks made of obviously second-hand material, was obviously poor. In Boston or New York or some city in the US, I think I noticed more poor or homeless people on the streets. They were also in the soup kitchens and places I’ve been like that. But in China, I didn’t notice that, so it did surprise me a bit.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Treese: We went on a lot of really fun outings to the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc., and I really liked those.

Giang: The sightseeing – going to the Great Wall, Forbidden City, etc. I’m a swimmer, so I really liked the Olympic park and swimming pool. In a way, it inspired me to swim better.

Larsen: During my free time when I could play Chinese chess or Chinese checkers with my exchange siblings.

Hochberger: My favorite part was meeting people and living in their shoes for a little and knowing what that’s like.

Clarissa Briasco-Stewart: That’s such a hard question. I really liked the food and all the friends I made. I ate a couple unknown foods during school lunch; there were a couple of dishes where we were like, ‘What is this?’.

Andrew Briasco-Stewart: The places we went. We went to Xi’an, which was a 4-day trip. We took a bullet train there and back and went to the Terracotta warriors. We also went to the Summer Palace in Beijing and the Great Wall.

Batarekh: Just the experience of living in the giant city [of Beijing] was great. It felt like, as I grow out of high school and into adulthood, something that I might experience a lot of. It was great living in the city. In Wayland, we don’t have public transportation, but in China we definitely had to take public transportation everywhere. This is because there was more traffic; you didn’t have many streets or lanes, and there’s millions of people just in Beijing. That experience was really different.