Students Prep for China Adventures
February 15, 2023
Strings of red lanterns decorated the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco when 12 seniors visited on a field trip on Feb. 11, and although it was the first time that most of them had ever been to Chinatown, they knew all about the lanterns, which are hung up as a part of the celebration of Chinese lunar New Year. They recognized that the bold, primary red color of the lanterns traditionally stands for celebration and prosperity.
The students have spent this year learning about China as part of the Journey to the East program, which will send the seniors to China for two weeks in the summer. To prepare, the students have been attending monthly seminars on Saturdays to study Chinese language, culture, history, customs and traditions.
“It’s opened my eyes to the culture, religion, people,” said senior Jordan Baker, one of the students in the program. “I thought it would be interesting and help me grow my character and my experience.”
The program is sponsored by DL Holdings and the CSJE Family Foundation, which is named for Crystal Jiang, who did a study abroad program in high school and felt it changed her life. Learning about other cultures helps people see how different they are, but also how similar, which can spark personal growth and also can help build international understanding.
Relations between the United States and China are strained these days, most recently over a Chinese balloon that floated across North America until it was shot down by U.S. military planes. The U.S. claims it was a spying device, collecting surveillance information, but China says it was a stray private weather balloon.
The program began in 2021 but the 10 seniors then were not able to travel due to COVID restrictions. This year, however, global educator Bill Kwong is almost certain that those students will be able to join this year’s group to travel to China in June and early July. At the moment, China is not issuing tourist visas, so as a backup plan, the students will go to Taiwan or possibly Hong Kong. On the trip, each student will have two assigned ‘buddies’ who will help them navigate while they travel and stay with local families for the two weeks.
In their most recent monthly seminar, the students learned about Chinese lunar New Year celebrations, one of the longest and most important festivals in China. From receiving red envelopes to making red rice paper decorations and tasting traditional foods, the seniors took part in many festival traditions.
Senior Dianna Macias said she assumed the celebrations would be similar to what she normally experiences a
t new years but learned there was a lot more to it.
“Every dish has its own purpose,” she said. “I thought that was so significant aside from just eating it and getting it. It can be wealth, or even beauty.”
Some students also drew connections between Chinese customs and those that were more familiar. Dianna said the New Years’ paper-cutting craft reminded her of Mexican cut paper, “papel picado”, that Mexicans use as decorations that add festivity to streets, supermarkets and parties.
In Chinatown, the students learned about Chinese-American history and the struggle against stereotypes and racism, and toured a Bruce Lee exhibit at the Chinese Historical Society of America museum. They ate dim sum at the Great Eastern Restaurant in ChinaTown where former president Barack Obama once ate, and for most of the students, it was their first time eating that food. They participated in a tea tasting and learned all about the various kinds of tea – white, oolong, black, green – from the shop owner, who carefully brewed each type and explained that tea began as an herbal medicine.
The field trip ended on a highlight – a scavenger hunt in which the students broke into four groups and wandered the streets, looking for specific items to find, such as a Chinese-language newspaper, or the answers to specific questions, like “Why do you light fireworks for new years?” The teams competed for a mystery prize – a small ceramic rabbit, in honor of this year, the Year of the Rabbit on the Chinese
Below is a slideshow from their trip: