Chinese-American Cultural Exchange Thrives in the West River Valley

1 ParadeHandPrints-39This summer, Leland and Gray hosted two groups of Chinese students ages 14-17 to learn about American culture and improve their English. None had ever been to the U.S. before, but now all can brag about their friends in Vermont. Fifty-two youth from the West River Valley welcomed 51 Chinese students and 4 teachers – picnicking, marching in the July 4th parade in Wardsboro, and spending time with students at the School for International Training from all over Vermont as part of the Governor’s Institute for Current Issues, plus students from all over the world at SIT’s Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation program.

On one day, Chinese students from Chongqing Foreign Language School attended two American high school classes, taught by L&G science teacher Bruce Whitman and English teacher Amanda Dixon. Another day they toured the University of Massachusetts, stopping at the Holyoke Mall along the way. They were square dancing with the Turkey Mountain Window Smashers and hiking to The Overlook in the Jamaica State Park. At the West Townshend Farmers Market, Steve Adams served flatbread pizza at the final banquet and awards ceremony.

1 ActivtiyCloseUp-34The second group participated in many of these activities, plus competed in a scavenger hunt to discover Townshend’s rich history and learned electroplating with L&G science teacher Dr. Ruth Ann Dunn, ably assisted by camp co-director Jennifer Connor. The second square dance was held at the Saxtons River Recreation Area, where they were joined by students and teachers from The Kurn Hattin School. This was an unparalleled experience for the Chinese, as they kicked up their heels together with youth of African-American and Latino heritage.

The genius behind the Chinese-American Cultural Exchange is, of course, Journey East director Tom Connor, who has brought thousands together in long-lasting global friendship over the past 15 years. He takes none of the credit; instead he praises the community for the openness and warmth brought to each event.

1 Parade2-38“It’s difficult to describe the connections that are made between the American and Chinese youth in such a short period of time,” says Mr. Connor. “The program is designed to promote constant interaction between the visiting Chinese and local students and families. They don’t just sit at home with their host families. [English Language Learner teacher] Bill Conley, Jennie, and I, with a lot of input from our counselors, design lessons that develop a bond. For example, 30 Chinese and American students would be placed in a group, and told to find someone born in July, or two people who have a dog, or three people who love ice cream. They are only able to ask each student one question, and must constantly move to find other people to ask.”

“When we said our goodbyes, one student, Rose, grabbed my hand and squeezed as if she never wanted to let go. Another girl, Kellie, cried on the entire ride back to Greenfield. This may have been the first time that Chinese students got to learn not just by rote, but socially and emotionally with youth and adults who cared about what they said, did, and felt.”

2 GroupShotSisterSchoolDeparture-41American students ages 10 to 18 came from Brookline, Dummerston, Guilford, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend, Wardsboro, and Windham. Some students who joined were visitors from New York State. Many hosted Chinese guests, but others simply showed up, either out of curiosity or because they have traveled or will travel to China in spring 2014 with Journey East.

Leland and Gray gives a tremendous thank-you to the 22 families who opened up their homes to the Chinese students and teachers. They include: Clare and Steve Adams,

Mindy and Jason Bean, Heather Chase, Tammy and Al Claussen, Bonnie Haug-Cramp and Robert Cramp, Nina Beckstrom and Rob Goldenhill, Kerry and Barbara Bourne,

2 ScienceClass-43Carol Bailey and Rick Jones, Missy and Jeff Buffum, Michelle and Bart Clark, Susan and Charlie Daigneault, Robert and Kathy DuGrenier, Johanna Gardner and Bahman Mahdavi, Laura and Keith Hazard, Maureen and Norman Holden, Jaca Fawcett-Hughes and Gil Hughes, Renee and Tim Madore, Heidi and Calvin Nystrom, Jenny and Daniel Reilly, Diana and James Urbaska, Kurt and Tereasa Williams, and Joe and Nacy Winrich.

Students serving as counselors played a very special role. Not only were they friends, but acted as leaders throughout the program. With so many students, dividing them into small groups was a necessity to foster interaction in safety and comfort. The outstanding counselors included Leland and Gray students Arik Clark, Maggie Joyce, and Alana Redden, Green Mountain High School eighth grader Samantha Chase, and Brattleboro Union senior Libby Annis. Many other students attended most, if not all, of the three weeks of camp activities, bringing positive energy and the best of Vermont hospitality. Those who went the extra mile include L&G students Maezie and Max Cramp, Susie Francy, Paige Gargett, Mariah Matyas, Casey Williams, and Kayla Williams.