3 weeks of study in China in store for local students
Arizona Daily Star
June 20, 2008

By Rhonda Bodfield

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/244647

About a dozen local students will travel to China next month to study language and culture for three weeks.

Participants say the trip, sponsored by the Tucson Unified School District's Ethnic Studies Department and financed largely by a Chinese non-profit agency, is all about breaking down barriers.

For recent University High School graduate Stephanie White, it will be a chance to get to know a country that she's seen only through news stories in the Western media, which tend to focus on human-rights or environmental struggles within the still semi-closed country.

"The stories don't come out and say it, but the underlying idea is that they're our enemies," said White, who was a teacher's aide in University High's Mandarin Chinese class. "I think this experience will help me understand more about what the people there are like as opposed to what we're told they're like on the news."

For Chinese teacher and trip organizer Jing Ma, the trip will be a chance to show the people of his country that American students are not the stereotypical drug-and-sex-addled messes in baggy pants that they often see in the media.

Last year, when Ma took his first group of 13 students to China, he kept hearing, "Your American high school students are so great and respectful. They're not like what we heard they'd be like."

Ma, who came to America to study in 1998 and who now teaches Chinese language at Rincon, University and Palo Verde high schools, decided to organize a trip after his students said they wanted to go to China.

He was energized, he said, by their interest in knowing more, from the language to music, martial arts and movies.

"Traveling is a chance to open the windows to the world," he said, adding the trip couldn't come at a better time. "China is an economic power. The Fortune 500 companies all have offices there and there are so many opportunities there. It's the future promise."

The trip will look a little different this time around. Last year, parents paid for the trip.

This year, the trip is being sponsored by Hanban, a non-profit affiliated with the Ministry of Education of China with a focus on increasing exposure to Chinese language and culture. Students will be responsible only for the airfare, which runs about $1,500. This year's trip also will be about a week shorter than last year's.

It is not a vacation. While students will see important pieces of Chinese heritage, the main function of the trip is education.

Students also will have a chance to meet and interact with Chinese high school students with some organized physical education activities, Ma said.

The trip is a chance White said she couldn't pass up, even though she figures it will be intense and perhaps a little intimidating because Chinese is a difficult language and students are expected to apply their learning and speak Chinese as much as possible.

"I want to meet people my age from a different point of view and a different culture," said White, who plans to study art and languages at the University of Arizona next semester.

"And I really like the idea of being submerged into a new world, where you're forced to learn new language skills and communicate with people you'd otherwise never meet. It kind of like forces you to open your mind."

● Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or at rbodfield@azstarnet.com.

Some openings remain

Know a high school student who might want to study in China?

There are still spaces available for the trip, but time is running out for registration.

Students are encouraged to inquire by the end of the day.

The trip runs from July 10 through Aug. 3 and is open to any local high school student with an interest in studying in China.

There are no language prerequisites and students will be grouped by language ability. Although high school students will get first preference, some recent graduates also may be accepted.

Students will be responsible for airfare and must have valid passports.

For more information, contact Jing Ma at TUSD's Pan-Asian Studies Department at 225-6556 or at majing369@gmail.com