By Sue Botos
When they were freshmen, Magnificat High School students Lizzy Todia and Jessie Frank jumped at the chance to study Chinese, at that time a new language offering at the school.
Now seniors, the girls had heard teacher Su-Jane Chen talk about awe-inspiring sights such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City during their four years of lessons, imagining what they might look like in person.
Recently, they, along with a group of 12 other students and faculty members, got the chance to experience these and other famous sights during a two-week trip to China, March 26 to April 6.
“We’ve been talking about going since we were freshmen, and hearing about everything there,” said Todia, who along with Frank, Chen, Magnificat language department Chair Josie O’Hara and dean of student life Moira Clark, sat down with West Life to discuss their adventure.
Frank noted that the first thing that hit the group, upon arriving in Beijing, were the crowds. “The first day in Beijing was kind of overwhelming, because you had to push your way through (the airport) because there were so many people everywhere, but you got used to it fast,” she recalled.
She added that despite the crowds, the group, especially those with lighter hair, stood out. “Everyone took our pictures everywhere we went; they even posed their kids with us,” she added.
While in Beijing, the group visited sights such as the Imperial Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and 2008 Olympic venues such as the “Bird’s Nest” stadium and the “Water Cube.” The stay was highlighted by a day at the Beijing Sanshizhong School, the equivalent of an American high school.
“I was impressed by their English because they spoke it so well,” noted Frank, adding that even the middle-school-aged students they visited in the smaller city of Xi’an were fluent. Chen, who said she goes back to China yearly to visit family, said that all students are taught English beginning at a young age.
“It was cool just to be able to talk with someone who’s half across the world from you and still have the same things in common,” noted Frank. Todia added that sometimes the Chinese students used more formal English. “They asked, ‘Have you ever been visited by Father Christmas?’ and we’d say, ‘Oh, you mean Santa Claus?’ and they’d never heard of Santa,” she said.
Chen noted that while Mandarin is spoken throughout the country, as in different areas of the United States, dialects can make people from various regions unable to understand each other. She added, however, that the Chinese written characters are standard.
Aside from sightseeing, shopping and attending performances, the group was able to sample local cuisine such as Beijing duck and a dumpling buffet. Todia admitted to being a “picky eater” and not a big fan of Chinese food, but she did not go hungry. “There was always rice and a lot of stir-fry. There was always something that everyone seemed to like on the table,” she recalled.
All members of the group said they were awed by the amount of construction going on wherever they traveled. “They talked about the ‘great opening up’ of the last 10 years,” said Clark, adding, “One memory that stayed with me was that anytime we’d be looking out at a cityscape, the number of cranes that signal progress (and) the amount of activity was impressive.”
Chen, whom the students call “Laoshi,” Chinese for teacher, said that cities grow in rings, beginning with the center, which represents the times of dynasties. These centers are eventually surrounded by larger rings as a city grows. The group noted that Shanghai seemed almost “futuristic” due to the ultra modern high-rises. Chen said as many as 100 can be constructed each year throughout the big cities.
Both Todia and Frank plan on continuing their study of Chinese in college and hope to incorporate a return trip into their studies.
“The trip made me appreciate everything we learned and everything we have here,” Todia commented. “Anytime you travel, you learn to appreciate the things you take for granted.”
Frank added, “”Never having traveled so far, it made you feel so small, and the world is so humongous.”