Carson High students share memories from 10-day trip to China
CHINA GROVE - Kate Cole had never flown before this summer when she boarded a plane headed for China.
In fact, the Carson High School junior had never been farther than the beach.
That was part of the appeal of the 10-day trip to China to visit Carson's partner school, Jiangsu Qingjiang Upper Middle School in Huai'An.
"I've never really been anywhere, and I don't know anybody who can say they've been to China," Cole said.
Junior Kaylee Walls, who's traveled as far as Ohio but only by car, said she's always wanted to travel so the trip to China sounded like a good opportunity.
"I definitely wanted to broaden my horizons," she said.
Junior Christian Houpe said he couldn't pass up what might turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to visit an Asian country.
"I wanted to travel so I thought it was a good place to start," he said.
Connecting in China
Thirteen students along with teachers from the school landed in Beijing and met up with Zhang Peihong, an English and social studies teacher who taught Mandarin Chinese at Carson during the 2010-11 school year.
Student Savannah Deal called the trip "truly unforgettable and life changing."
"The best experience for me was visiting our sister school," she said. "I had already corresponded with some of the students via email, so it was cool to finally meet them."
Deal said she was surprised to learn the students start school at 7:30 a.m. each day and don't head home until 9 p.m.
"I think it's amazing how much they can focus on their academics in a school that is nowhere near as nice as the ones provided in this country," she said.
Deal said the students she met were "truly lovely, interesting people."
"It was neat that we were able to tear down stereotypes," she said. "I hope our school can make this trip in the future to further our relationship."
Amie Williams, the Carson teacher who organized the trip, said the students enjoyed visiting the partner school so much that they begged to go back a second day.
So, they did. This time, instead of spending time with a designated partner, they actually got to take part in chemistry, English and math classes.
"I could tell what they were doing," junior Christian Houpe said. "But it was much more advanced than what we're used to."
Carson math teacher Zach Overcash said he challenged the Chinese students with some math problems.
"I threw down an algebra I problem and they tore it apart really quick," he said.
The same things happened with an algebra II problem.
"I asked them when they covered it and they said about five years ago," he said. "What I would consider algebra II level math, they were doing as 10-year-olds, that was amazing."
Houpe said all the students at the school wore white lab coats embroidered with the school logo and black pants.
"My buddy James told me about how school is work, work, work with a little bit of fun," he said. "He said he can't even have a girlfriend until he's 18."
The students did get to have some fun at the school, watching the dance team perform a number to the Justin Bieber song "Baby."
The students also held a toast with the principal using the Rowan County treat, Cheerwine.
"We had to explain that it didn't actually contain wine," Williams said.
Since the partnership began, a number of trips have been made.
Former Carson principal Henry Kluttz and current principal Kelly Withers, then assistant principal, visited the school in June 2009.
The following summer, the Chinese principal visited China Grove and Carson 21st century classroom teachers Williams and Katie Steen went to China.
"I hope the next step is for them to send kids over here," Williams said.
Cole said her favorite part of the trip was climbing the Great Wall of China.
"It was really cool because I've always wanted to go see the wonders of the world," she said. "We got to climb it in the rain, which made it more fun and interesting.
"I don't know what I expected, but I thought it was gorgeous."
Houpe said he enjoyed haggling at the markets.
"That's not something you can really do around here," he said. "I got to bring back some really cool stuff for my family."
His haul, including a tea set for his mother and watch for his dad, ended up being so substantial that he had to purchase another suitcase to transport it back to the States.
Walls said simply being immersed in the Asian culture made the trip worthwhile.
"It was very different than anything we have here," she said.
She particularly liked the family-style meals when everyone gets to choose what they want to eat.
"Sitting down like that is a good way to bond," Walls said.
Houpe said the food was amazing, including the scorpion he devoured.
"It was all good except for the congealed blood," he said. "I was worried about not having anything to eat, but I probably gained weight."
Cole said one of her favorite meals was served in the home of a local family.
"We rode rickshaws there, and when we arrived the wife made dinner and the husband talked to us about how the family is into karate," she said. "It was interesting to be there in their house and to see the different decorations and things they have there."
With the help of a Chinese tour guide named Amanda, the students also saw Tiananmen Square, the Olympic bird's nest located at Beijing National Stadium, the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City.
They also learned tai chi in the Summer Palace, China's largest royal park.
"How many people can say they've done that?" Williams said.
The student also participated in a traditional tea ceremony following their climb up the Great Wall.
"All different kinds of teas were passed around for us to smell before they poured cups for us," Walls said.
Getting to China
Williams said the students raised about $10,000 for the trip to China.
"We did tons of fundraising to get there," she said.
Fundraisers included a pancake breakfast, iPad raffle, Port-a-Pit chicken dinner sale, car washes and candy bar sales.
Houpe even got creative by making his own wooden pens to sell.
"It was definitely a lot of work, but it paid off for sure," he said.
Houpe summed up the experience with a quote he heard along the way:
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.