China’s ancient ruins, street clamor and tropical monsoons became a colorful reality for seven students from St. John’s- Kilmarnock School in Breslau.In August the school sent them to Ganquan Foreign Languages Middle School, a sister school in the heart of Shanghai. Head of St. John’s-Kilmarnock Norman Southward says the connections made by the school are essential to the kids.
“They are remarkable trips. … It is the demographic reality of Canada that we are already a very diverse population. That exists anyway. But to diversify that further only creates better understanding of the world for our students,” he explained.
“Learning Mandarin was pretty good, it would be a pretty useful language to know,” said SJK student James Webber, who joined three friends, Kyle Conrad and sisters Chloe and Lauren Good, on the trip.
The students left Canada Aug. 1 for the 15-day trip, but their excursion was no vacation. Though they certainly had a chance to see the sights – the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and a popular market on Silk Street – much of their time was taken up with studying the Mandarin language and living through some volatile weather.
The students were coming back from a trip to the Bund, a waterfront boardwalk from which they viewed the Oriental Pearl Tower, Chloe Good explained as three student started to tell the story of a monsoon.
“Were going back to school that night, they [tour directors] were just like ‘oh by the way there’s going to be a large typhoon tomorrow and its going to be the biggest one we’ve had in quite a few years,’” she said.
“They told us afterwards that there were four levels to the intensity of the typhoon. The lowest one was blue and then yellow, orange and red … being the most severe,” Lauren continued. “[The school coordinator] smiles and says ‘oh, yeah, this typhoon is red.’”
The storm went around the city instead of directly through as predicted but the students spent their time inside anyway, watching the U-shaped streets of Shanghai, designed for flood drainage, fill with water as high winds drove torrents of rain.
Two days inside of a student dormitory didn’t dampen their spirits, however. They spent their hours busy with painting fans, making artificial flowers and building models. On the second day, when rains finally let up, they went out into the grounds and ran to their language classes, umbrellas in hand.
As part of the school’s baccalaureate program, the school offers exchanges to sister schools and reciprocates by hosting foreign students. Prior to talks with Chinese schools two years ago, St. John’s Kilmarnock had already created connections in Tibet and Kenya. The recent addition of Mandarin language studies through Hanban – a Chinese organization that works to spread Chinese culture internationally – at the school is what started the exchange process with China. In its second year offering Mandarin lessons, Southward hopes next year the school will attract a number of Chinese students for a 10-day trip here through the Hanban’s language program.
An intensive language course took up much of the travellers’ time in between trips to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and other attractions. But a chance to experience both language and culture left some of the students hungry for more.
“I really wanted to visit China. I’ve always wanted to learn another language other than English and French. I decided what a great place to learn Mandarin,” Conrad said. “I always wanted to travel the world and see all the places that I can see while I’m still young.”