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Medfield Students Leave Thursday for Chinese Exchange Program

Nine Medfield students – six from the middle school and three from the high school – leave today for Bengbu, China, where they will spend nearly three weeks utilizing their Mandarin immersion classes.

Nine Medfield students and two Medfield administrators are heading to China today for a three-week cultural exchange visit in Bengbu, China, and an experience of a lifetime.

“This is an amazing opportunity for all of us to learn more about the Chinese culture,” said Tracy Allen, a guidance counselor at , who, along with Maura Batts, a language teacher at the – who started the district’s Mandarin language program after immersing herself in the language during a one-year sabbatical – will chaperone the trip.

“This is an important program because of the prominence of China in the global economy, and it will also spread cultural awareness,” said Allen. “I think Chinese is a language that more and more people will be studying. … We have limited information about China and going there and having this experience will open our eyes to their culture; it will also open their eyes to our culture as well because they’ll get to see ‘typical American kids.’”

While in Bengbu, students will attend school from Monday through Friday, where they will have special classes in history, science and English, but the majority of the time they will be experiencing a ‘typical’ school day of their Chinese host student.

During their limited free time, they have weekend trips planned to the Yellow Mountains and the cities of Nanjing, Suzhou and Shanghai.

“We know that we’re going to have an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to be living in a home and really experiencing Chinese life first-hand is just so special,” said Allen, explaining this trip is particularly unique because it is Medfield students’ debut trip to Benghu, and also because it includes eighth graders. “Not a lot of trips take eighth graders on something this extraordinary.”

Katrina Simon is one of those eighth graders. She became intrigued by China last year when her family hosted a Chinese exchange student – Melodie Zhao – in their Medfield home.

“Now I get to stay with her family and I can’t wait to see her,” said Simon. “After I had Melodie stay with me, I was interested in China’s culture and language; she really made me start to learn about China and everything it has to offer.”

Simon took Mandarin this year and also started the China Club at the middle school. The club has 35 members who are not necessarily Mandarin students but are simply interested in the culture. The teacher advisor is . 

Over the summer, Miss Li instructed the selected students in table manners (such as how to properly use chop sticks), and social etiquette (including proper greetings) – skills needed to make a good impression on their new Chinese families.

Nathaniel Schwartz, an eighth grader at Blake, actually has a Chinese family he will meet for the first time during this trip.

“My 13-year-old cousin, Tiger Mar, is half Chinese and he influenced my decision,” said Schwartz of his choice to study Mandarin and to participate in this trip. “I am most looking forward to meeting my Chinese family, but I am not looking forward to the travel time.”

The trip is estimated to take 16 hours.

To prepare for the trip, he attended four Chinese workshops over the summer, read travel books, and spoke with his cousin Mar about a trip he took to China two years ago.

Meghan Keleher has also been gearing up for the trip that will take her away from her senior year of high school and the college application process.

“I’ve always wanted to travel to China just because it’s such an interesting and ‘up and coming’ country,” said Keleher. “I feel like China is going to surpass the United States someday and knowing about their economy and their schooling, and learning how different life is across the world will be important.”

While applying to colleges, Keleher said she is looking at colleges that offer courses in International Studies.

During their visit, each student is making a presentation related to everyday life in America.

Simon will perform a tap dance, Schwartz will talk about American foods and Keleher, who plays field hockey and lacrosse, will discuss girls playing sports – a somewhat foreign custom in China.

The purpose of the program, said Robert Maguire, Superintendent of Medfield Public Schools, is to enhance the educational experience of the students in both communities.

“It’s a nice opportunity for the kids to be able to use their knowledge in an environment where they’ll be immersed more fully in the culture and the language,” said Maguire, who himself visited Bengbu over the summer. “This is an opportunity for the kids to have an experience of really understanding the culture, something they can’t get in the classroom.”  

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