2016-3-31 Brianna Reed

Bitter – Sweet

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Brianna Reed posing with the Miao Dancer dress

The Journey East kid’s last day with the New Star kids was an almost indescribable experience. We’d only spent a few days with these kids and for some of us, I think it felt like we had known these students for years. By the time this day started I could probably say that I knew more about my host sister Celina (11 yrs. Old) than I currently know about anyone I came on this journey with. There we all were, sitting on the bus on our way to spend our last day together at LongDe Miao Village. The New Star students, wearing their bright yellow matching sweatshirts, curious eyes, and wide smiles. The Journey East kids (for the most part) wearing tired eyes yet understanding faces. It was obvious that the fact today was the JE group and New Star kid’s last day together was on everyone’s mind, but no one wanted to talk about it.

Celina and I sat by each other listening to her music, playing games, and losing ourselves in the laughter and quirkiness of one another. We both knew that the other one felt sad because our time together was so short and despite trying to hide it through a kind smile or funny face, it was obvious in just a moment of eye contact. It was an amazing day full of learning and bonding moments for everyone, but that little feeling of emptiness in everyone’s gut was so hard to ignore. We were in such an amazing place full of tradition, beautiful land, beautiful people and years of hard work. The day was just so full of contradicting emotions.

After a traditional Miao performance, monger harassing, and a village lunch, the New Star students and JE students exchanged gifts and goodbyes. It was an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming experience. I was trying not to look across the room at Celina because I knew that if I did, I would cry. One by one the New Star students shared a hug, gift, and some kind words with the student that their family hosted and one by one each person experienced something new and rare.

When Celina came up to me it was clear that she didn’t know what to say or how to say what she wanted. She started to cry and I hugged her. I started to cry and immediately felt an extreme feeling of loss. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her and she didn’t want to say goodbye to me. The night before, we were in the car and Celina said my name to get my attention. I looked to the left and saw she had written something in the fog on the window. She wrote “I no play a Chong Qing with you” and drew a sad face next to it. I was confused at first, but my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach like a rock when I realized what she meant. She said she liked playing with me very much and “thought we played together well”. She knew she couldn’t come to Chongqing with us and play with me and I couldn’t stay in Kaili to play with her. I felt like crying, but knew I had to keep smiling for her. If I cried, she would probably cry and I didn’t want to see her cry. These people didn’t represent just a place to sleep at night or something to do to pass the time. These host families represented opportunity. An opportunity to learn more about the world and yourself, an opportunity to see the world through new eyes, an opportunity to grow, and most importantly, an opportunity to create a one of a kind bond that could only be created once. Celina wasn’t just a host sister to me. I became a part of her family and she didn’t just become a friend, she became a little sister to me. I cared about her like a sister and felt like I had to protect her. When we walked on the street, I stayed close and kept an eye on her. When we crossed the street, I held her hand. When we played, I kept her laughing. When she looked sad, I made her smile. When we sat on the bus, I talked to her and we learned about each other. These goodbyes at Miao Village meant so much more than just a simple ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘thanks for letting me stay at your house’. These goodbyes weren’t only showing everyone that we connected with these people, but they were making our bonds with them stronger and making it even harder to say goodbye.

When Sam Harrison’s host brother Dance gave him his gift and said goodbye, he didn’t just share something beautiful with Sam. He shared something beautiful with everyone in the room. He made a speech and at the end he said “we aren’t crying because we are sad, we are crying because something beautiful has happened”. It was clear that the relationship we had with these other students not only caused us to learn and grow, but it caused them to learn and grow as well. It’s so amazing how Dance’s speech was in English and that it was poetic at the same time. It just goes to show that these students want to learn our language and understand it at the same time.

Later, we all sat down to work on embroidering small designs onto cloth. A lot of embroidery seen on clothes, bags, and other items used and being sold in the small village is done by hand. I think they wanted us to try this activity so that maybe we could understand how much work and effort goes into the beautiful work we could see all around us. I looked around and everyone had a sort of sad look on their face and seemed quiet. It seemed difficult for everyone to try and focus on something other than the moving experience that had just happened. When we were done Celina handed me her little white piece of square cloth and told me to keep it. It said “I love you” in bright orange letters and below it was a bright red colored heart. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and a gift I’ll always treasure.

Before leaving the village we all had some free time to admire the land/buildings and buy some gifts in the center of the village. The women who danced in the traditional performance at the beginning of our visit also carried around big baskets full of jewelry, bags, embroidered bookmarks and other small items to sell. If you look at one thing someone’s selling, at least three other women will come up to you holding the same thing in your face and competing with the others to sell it to you. You never want to pay the price they ask for and if you don’t get the price at least cut in half then you’re probably paying more than everyone else is for the same item. It can be overwhelming and a little agitating at times, but it’s important to remember that this is how they make their living and it’s what they know how to do. The beautiful land and design of the village is almost more overwhelming to take in than the vendors. It’s crazy how in a short bus ride the people of Kaili can leave one world and enter a completely different one. They can go from looking at tall buildings and listening to the loud city noises to admiring the structure of the villages and breathtaking views. Visiting these places in Kaili gave me a new appreciation for Vermont. I don’t think that the people in Kaili realize how lucky they are to live in and around such beautiful places. Just like a lot of people in Vermont don’t realize how lucky we are to live there and take it for granted. A lot of people (including myself at times) complain about how Vermont is boring and say they can’t wait to move away and blah blah blah, but they don’t realize how many opportunities and resources we have that not everyone has. Simple things like a peaceful hike, skiing or snowboarding, being able to jump in the river and cool off on a hot summer day, fishing, and even something as simple as having your own front yard are taken for granted because most Vermonters have never not had these things. It’s crazy how it’s taken me being on the other side of the world to appreciate my own home. Better late than never I guess. 🙂

That night, my host family and I continued to learn about each other and enjoy the last bit of time we had left together. My host mom wrote me a letter while I sat on the couch with my host sister looking at some of their photo albums. Celina fell asleep and I was about to when I looked up and realized my host mom was crying. She looked at me and asked me if I believed in fate. She said she thought it was fate that brought me to their family. I then realized that I had gained more than a sister, I had gained a family. A home away from home. It was so amazing. She told me that she thought my mom was a good mom and that she raised me well and she wanted to know what my mom taught me because she wanted Celina to grow up like me. It’s crazy because I wouldn’t have even been sitting there in that situation and having a beautiful conversation with this woman without the help from my mom, but this woman didn’t realize that she had been a mother to me while I was away from my home and taught me things about myself that I would’ve never discovered without her help. I know that if my mom could meet her, she would thank her for taking care of me when she couldn’t be there to.

We wiped away our tears, laughed, hugged, went to bed, and that was the end of another amazing day on this Journey.

The language barrier was never broken because in my mind, it didn’t exist. I didn’t let the fact that we spoke a different language or lived a different day to day life create a wall that could stop me from getting to know these people or connect with them. If I went into this experience without willing to step out of my comfort zone and embrace their culture, I would have never been able to build such a beautiful bond with these people and felt at home. It may have been difficult or taken longer than usual to have a conversation or learn about each other, but it only made bonding more worth it and taught me to be more patient. They weren’t mad at me because I knew very little of their language so why would I be upset if they didn’t understand something I said when they were speaking to me in my language. We come to their homes and they speak to us in English and try their best to make us feel at home and comfortable. Its crazy how giving and kind these families and people are. I feel bad for anyone who may have let our differences in culture or a little awkwardness effect what they gained from these homestays and the time we had with the students from New Star. I will never forget a moment of this incredible Journey. Every day is a new adventure and full of new opportunities. They say that home is where the heart is and Kaili will always have a piece of my heart. <3

 

2016-3-30 Adam Culver

The Ride to Chongqing

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Adam Culver

I woke up at 4:00 o’clock again. I’m not surprised, seeing as I went to bed at around 6:00 the previous night. My host Coco cut up mango and pineapple and added yogurt for breakfast. The pineapple was good, and the yogurt they added, it was much smoother than what I am used to in America. It’s like comparing a quilt to a blanket. Before I finished, I noticed Coco’s dad getting ready to leave, I got his attention then pointed to my camera and he understood. He got his camera and we took a group photo. Following that, I gave them a gift I meant to give them the night before, the Vermont calendar, because I fell asleep so early. We didn’t get to look through it together because we were short on time but I think they appreciated it.

I don’t think my hosts owned their own car, so they wanted to borrow a friend’s, that way I wouldn’t have to bring my suitcase on a bus or taxi. After all that, we rushed to the car, because we thought we would be late. We showed up with plenty of time and as we waited for everyone to arrive, I started my goodbyes.

The hotel where we met had a large lobby where we could put down our bags. The director from New Star, Wilson, got everyone together to take a group photo in front of a large mural. We all said, “YI, ER, SAN, QIEZI!” which means “One, two, three… eggplant,” although they say qiezi (chied-za) because it sounds like “cheese” which is what we say in America. Right after the photo, the bus arrived and it was a lot smaller than we had before, but we survived. If the suitcase section was larger, it would have been fine, but we had to put five or six suitcases in seats so people had to double up and needed to sit next to each other for eight hours. When the bus was loaded, and it was time to go, I didn’t cry, but Coco may have. She gave me a big hug and said, “Don’t forget about us.”

Once we were on the bus, it was quiet for 30 seconds or so as I thought about what happened during those five days in Kaili. I think what I enjoyed most about my homestay was the night that Coco’s brother came home and we all stayed up late sharing pictures and talking because we really connected. We all kept making eye contact but none of us could really communicate so we kept laughing with one another all night.

The bus ride was about eight hours, but it felt like two. Mostly we played cards and listened to music, and Mr. Goodemote tried to teach us a Chinese song. Surprisingly, I even read The Blood of Olympus on my Kindle for a bit. When we reached Chongqing, for some reason, I was disappointed and I don’t know why, but I thought it would be like Coruscant from Star Wars. It was louder than Beijing, and I was quite confused because we could barely see into the city, and we weren’t sure if it was fog or smog.

It turned out to be fog and Tom told us that Chongqing was a safe haven from Japanese bombings during World War II because of it. The fog and the mountains turned it into a place of power during the war. There were many ancient caves into the mountains and on days without fog, they would have protection by moving into them to hide out. Two hundred air raids were launched over the span of three years. Those raids killed nearly 12,000 people, which were mostly civilians. Who knows how many people would have died without those caves? Without them, would Coco and her family exist?

Thanks to Mark, the coolest translator in history, we got a 5-star hotel, so of course I felt out of place. Like Kaili, the lobby was gorgeous and right after we put our suitcases in our rooms, we went to dinner. I just had soda, because of my stomach bug, but everyone else had a good meal. One of the better foods, from the group’s opinion, was the spicy pork. Returning home we got ice-cream, which was delicious and Mr. Goodemote had an interesting flavor, Green Tea.

After we got back to the hotel, I started to write in my journal. There was a sudden knock, and my roommate, Sam Thibault, made the mistake of opening the door. Nathan came in and was shocked. He left and returned with three others. Then the door was knocked twice more, with groups of two or three. As it turned out, we had a massive room compared to others. We had about 10 feet between our beds and the opposite wall, and some people only had about five.  Since ours was so large, people came into our room for a “Trap Party”. This included Jake with his speaker, and Brianna with a toga which she made it out of the bed runner. I still don’t understand why she was wearing the toga, unless it’s just Brianna being Brianna. After a song or two, Mr. Goodemote came in wearing his “what do you think you are doing!” face, and told us to stop or bring the level down from a nine to a two. People didn’t really enjoy the trap music at a level two so they all went back to their rooms. Once things settled down, Sam T. and I lied down on our comfy beds and the little taste of home was refreshing.  We stayed up and talked about China and what we thought so far. We were tired and after a while, we passed out on our comfy beds. We would have to wait for the next day to finish our conversation.

2016-3-28 Tino Benson

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Tino Benson with the Dong formal wear on

Bright, smiling faces all around and laughter filling the air. The sounds of Chinese and English blurring together.  That is what was heard one afternoon in the PanGuZhai Culture Park in a far corner of the bustling city of Kaili. To be more specific, our group had just arrived there with our host siblings and their teachers to play games and socialize in a beautiful park/restaurant. The grass was similar to golf turf and there were absolutely breathtaking traditional structures surrounding the park. Pagodas, houses, statutes, you name it, if you’ve seen it in a stereotypical Chinese movie, it was there. On top of that, the park was full of cute kindergarten age kids, all wearing their school uniforms. They were running around in red tracksuits, giggling and laughing with each other as they tumbled around the turf, tossing bouncy balls and sliding down the staircases.

Together, we (Journey East), our hosts (New Star) and the other schoolchildren filled up the large park with all the sounds that anyone would expect from a playground in a packed city; loud and fun. We took out jump ropes, hacky sacks and bouncy balls and had lots of fun with them. At first, the park looked like a school gym class using jump ropes to keep their heart rate up. Some of our teachers were jumping two feet into the air while spinning the ropes at light speed. Kids were playing double Dutch and some of us attempted to jump into the fray. This often ended in the ropes hitting our backs. There was one kid who held one end of the rope and jumped while another person held it and spun; somewhat atypical for an American. After the ropes we progressed into many other games such as playing catch without using any spoken language with the little Chinese kindergarteners. We lost the ball and they came running up onto the hill and helped look for it. It was a junior search party more thorough than ever seen before. However, the ball was not recovered and one Journey East person was one more yuan in debt. The afternoon continued with laughter and simple games and it culminated in several group dances that were incited by some lovely traditional music that played on the loudspeakers.

From all the experiences on the trip so far, this one stuck in my head as one of the more successful multi-cultural events. The way we interacted with the Chinese so effortlessly was similar to how young kids find another kid at family reunions just for the sake of good company and a playmate. It’s almost exactly what happened that day; I don’t know any of the Chinese Kindergarteners nor will I ever know them in my future and yet I still managed to show them a bouncy ball, point to them and the ran to the other side of the field, ready to play catch. We were all there to have fun and enjoy ourselves and it felt great that it all happened spontaneously, one game melded into another, jump rope became double Dutch, catch became a tag game and eventually we were all hugging and dancing with each other. The innocence and pure joy that came from that experience will always stick in my memory as one of the happier moments in my time in China.

2016-3-27 Maris Linder

Maris Linder

Maris Linder trying on a Chinese worker hat

I was awakened by my host sister Lucy, a very sweet girl. Then I was greeted at the table by my host family with dumplings for breakfast 🙂 , I was very happy. They were trying to explain to me what we were doing today and after acting it out and saying key words I realized we were going to hike a mountain. My host mother was very worried I would be cold so she made me bundle up in many layers. At the mountain we met up with Sarah, Zoie, Jake, Pat, Mariah Sam T and their host families.

This hike was not what we expected. It turned out that we were just walking up stairs on a mountain. We were all tired after about two minutes, but we went for as long as we could. As much as we wanted to explore China we knew we could definitely not make it up the entire mountain of stairs, and we wanted to go to the park. Mariah got up the nerve to ask the host families if we could go to the park to play basketball, and it worked.

The park was very cool, it was built like the coliseum but with Chinese architecture. Inside was a soccer field, track, badminton, ping-pong and basketball courts. Mariah and I started shooting around with two old guys. We wanted to play 2 vs. 2 with them but when we asked they just laughed and soon walked away. We ended up playing a game of American students against Chinese students. There was one kid that was really good, he was “breakin’ ankles!”

It is amazing how the language barrier totally disappears in situations like this. We all clap and cheer when someone makes a basket, we all laugh when someone “airballs” and we all say “Ooooooh” when someone makes a good move. It was really a fun experience.

For lunch the same group went to Pizza Hut. We were all so excited to finally have American food but were disappointed when we saw the menu which consisted of noodles, rice and meat. It was gross looking pizza. At Pizza Hut, Zoie, our host sisters and I played a Chinese card game, and once again, the language barrier was almost nonexistent.

Next, was our first show of the trip and it did not go as well as we had hoped. We had to make a few changes in the entrances and exits because our performance took place in a dance studio. The crowd really liked the sea monster and Kenny as the evil zombie.

After our performance some students from the New Star School performed and a dance group performed. They were unbelievably good and were all so young and talented. Some very young children, maybe six years old from New Star School recited the Little Red Riding Hood story in English and did little hand motions to act it out. They must be so disciplined! In America, if we sang a song in English maybe only two people would actually know it while the others would just go along. This just makes me understand what school is like for the Chinese. After the performance everybody had a chance to feel like a celebrity because people were getting to know us and taking pictures with us. For dinner I had dumplings again! 🙂

 

2016-3-26 Rebecca Williams

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Rebecca Williams in Kaili

Saturday, day 2 of the home stay.

It is so weird being in a place where they only speak a little English, but I guess that is how the Chinese kids who come to America feel. Now I see how they feel when we take them around and do not really tell them where they are going and how long they will be out, but it is fun. It was a rainy day today, but that did not stop any of our planned activities.

I got to go in my first taxi which was not as bad as I thought it would be, and my host brought us to a really cool breakfast on the street. It was warm soy milk with sugar which you dip fried dough in and eat. It was kind of like warm cereal, but it was so good and probably the weirdest, but best thing I have had since I got here. My host is so sweet she is one of the English teachers at the New Star School, which is the school that is hosting us.  All she wants to do is make sure that we are happy.

The next activity that we did was to meet at the school to get ready to buy food for the BBQ we were going to have that afternoon.  We had a group leader and we each got some money to buy veggies and meat at the market. We went out and under a building that just had some bulbs hanging from the ceiling by a string; it was so cool, but weird. The meat part of the market was like something out of a horror movie. There were pig feet and blood and fat everywhere it was petrifying, but the Chinese kids were just so used to it. They were just like, “I want this and that,” and then they would negotiate prices; it was so fun to watch. It taught me not to be embarrassed to say stuff in Chinese in front of the people in the market when I tried to buy stuff in Chinese.  We got everything on our list and we walked back to the school where we all sat and played games and talked.

The next thing on our list was to go to We-co which was a really cool place with green houses and gardens and streams. When we got to We-co, we went in and we sat at these tables and we had time to sit and relax and eat a snack before we went outside to do more activities. All of the kids were playing games. I watched a game that a bunch of the boys were learning how to play which was cool and easy to understand even with the language barrier. After the snack and time to gather ourselves, which few of the kids needed, we went out in to the gardens and rows of greenhouses.  We got lots of looks from the Chinese workers. The first stop was a greenhouse in which we planted some peppers with the Chinese students. Then, after we finished badly planting the peppers, we went to pick strawberries which were the best strawberries that I have ever had. They were sweet and so good. Jake ended up with a lot because his buddy – a 5 year-old child of one of the teachers who latched on to Jake for the whole day – picked all his berries for him.  Jake’s buddy was also feeding people the berries, which was so cute. The Chinese kids, who were group leaders, paid for three baskets of berries which made me feel bad, but they would not accept money from us.  After berry picking we had time before we were to have the BBQ so we walked all over the gardens and it was so amazing. The rain and he sky was clearing so it was just an all-around beautiful great day.

Next on the list was finally the BBQ, which was not what I was expecting at all. We barbequed on these cool tables with a grill top on the end and charcoal hoppers on the inside. Then on top you put the meat and the veggies, and you are supposed to put the oil and the sauce that they gave you on them, which gives it flavor.  People can put on what they want and then it is a free for all. You can take or leave what you want, but all of the food was good. The squash was Skyler and my favorite out of all the food and everyone had a really good time cooking and just having fun. We played games and some of the kids danced with the some younger kids who were at We-co with another group. Our table got a little out of hand when they started to grill oranges and strawberries with the spices used for the meat. Apparently they were good on the strawberries; I didn’t believe them.  Once everyone finished, we packed all of the leftovers up and we went to the bus and we drove back to the New Star School and the American kids went to one room and the Chinese to another because the Chinese students needed to meet about something. We welcomed a break to speak English to each other. Some of our Journey East students were nervous because tomorrow we have to spend most of the day with our host families. Many are anxious because they are staying alone and most of the families don’t speak much English.  We were soon all separated again and went to our families for the night.

When I got to my host family, they were having a big family dinner. All of the host family siblings were there (she has a younger brother and younger sister), her mom and dad, her cousin and her son and husband, and her friend Michael, an English teacher from London England. We had all of the dishes that are famous in Kaili and they were all really good. As I am writing this it is like 10:30 on Saturday and I am so tired and going to bed so have a Happy Easter and a good day.

-Rebecca

2016-3-25 Sarah Andersen

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Sarah Andersen in the Weco strawberry greenhouse

Today we got up at 4 AM to go on the plane to Guiyang. When we got to Guiyang the landscape was so different from Beijing that I felt like we were in a tropical forest. As we landed, the hills and mountains were so interesting all I could do was stare out my window in wonder. Tino and I had a great view of Guiyang from our window.

We got on the bus and many of the Chinese were crowding at the windows taking pictures of us and looking in awe. I don’t think any of us had ever seen anything like it.  On the bus ride, we saw that some farmers had cows on ledges in the mountains, not enclosed in a fence, just eating grass; it was very interesting to see the two completely different cultures and landscapes – Beijing and Guiyang – right after each other. This is when I truly realized that I was in China, seeing the farming culture and rice paddies.

During our bus ride to Guiyang, we were given a list of our homestay assignments. We were supposed to be staying with a partner, but these lists said differently. I was looking forward to staying with Fairen because we have a lot of the same interests; now each of us was supposed to stay alone with a separate host family. To be completely honest, this scared me a lot. I don’t know any Chinese and I was worried my family wouldn’t know any English.

We arrived at the school, New Star, an accelerated English school, there was music playing and they had a banner. I felt like I was a movie star. They brought us into a classroom and gave us some snacks. There was a yellow cake bread that was pretty good, and they had some bananas. In the room there were balloons that we could play with. Jenny started a game with the Chinese and American students where we would try to keep the balloon up in the air the entire time. It was pretty easy, until we added more and more balloons. We only dropped one. They took us into another room that looked like a dance studio. We all sat in chairs around the room.

Soon, we had a little girl come in and sing a song for us. I felt like that was a big barrier breaker for the group. Our group sang Riptide after that. Skyler was on the ukulele for us, and it sounded pretty good. A couple of other groups of Chinese students got up and sang songs. Nathan and Sam were going to do one of their clown skits, but they never got around to it. We played a game with the students where they came out in white masks and we received a picture of one of them. Little did we know the person we received a picture of was our host sibling.  We got to look at the picture for ten seconds, and then we had to put the picture away. They removed their masks and we had to try to stand behind the person we thought we had a picture of. The teacher then told us if we were right or not. Nathan was the only person that was wrong.

My family brought me to their house. At first I was nervous because my host mother doesn’t speak any English and she kept trying to speak to me in Chinese. Their house is really nice and they gave me a really nice room to stay in. When we had dinner, I didn’t really know what I liked and what I didn’t, so I tried the meat and it was kind of like sausage. After dinner, we watched The Maze Runner, and my family was very polite throughout the whole night. Overall, I had a really great day and the group of Chinese students was very fun to meet.

2016-3-24 Sam Thibault

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Sam Thibault jumping for joy at the Great Wall

Today we woke up at 6:30 and we went downstairs to the lobby for breakfast. The food, not surprisingly, was very different than American. I liked the rice, dumplings, and noodles but it was also among duck eggs and sour milk. I am getting better at using chopsticks which is probably a good thing as we will be using them for the next 29 days. Anyway, after breakfast we got our bags and headed to the bus and left for the Great Wall.

After a two hour bus ride we finally made it. It was fascinating to me that after that long a time we were still in Beijing. Of course there was some traffic but not too much. The bus ride wasn’t too bad and the group has definitely bonded quite a bit. Compared to the fourteen hour flight the two hour drive flew by and soon we were looking at large mountains with the Great Wall in sight.

Once we took the gondola up the mountain we got a great view of the wall. We walked a small amount then found a meeting place, took a group photo and we split up so everyone could go however far they wanted to (Not past Mr. Goodemote). Once I was walking a bit I stopped to take pictures of the mountain side and the Great Wall continuing up. I really started to think about how long the Great Wall has been there. I’ve never been near or on anything that old and it is really fascinating to me. It was also interesting to hear different languages being spoken such as Chinese, English, French, Spanish, German, and probably many more. It made me think of how widely known the Great Wall is, and in my opinion it is the most iconic place in China. There have been so many different nationalities standing where I stood today. Today was breathtaking and the view was amazing! I took a lot of pictures but I tried not to look through a camera the whole time so I spent most of the time just taking it in. Soon the hour was quickly over and Mariah, Skyler, Mrs R, and I walked back to the meeting spot.

Once on the ground again we walked through the vendors and I had to learn to ignore some very aggressive sales people. It was hard to not be friendly but I had to or I would waste a lot of money. It was an experience though. I didn’t buy anything but some people in the group bargained with the vendors and got some cool gifts to bring back. Brianna was a pro at bargaining.

After that we got a very good lunch and Jennie was laughing so hard about the pork belly she was crying and the entire table was laughing. It was a good time. We had a long bus ride back to the hotel, where we took an hour break then headed to dinner. Dinner was good but many people at my table were falling asleep (Nathan, Kenny, and I). I may have also dropped sweet and sour chicken in my drink but I know that Adam dropped most of his on the table. After I had almost fallen asleep in my food we went back to the hotel and called it a day.

2016-3-23 – Fairen Stark

Fairen

Fairen-smOn March 22nd, 3 AM came much too early for everyone. Most of us had gotten very few hours of sleep; Zoie and I had stayed up until midnight, unable to fall asleep. We were all very excited to discover that the breakfast bar at the hotel had coffee and food, and then we were off. The buses brought us to the airport, and we quickly got through security and had boarded our flight to Detroit. I was tired, but excited and looking forward to the trip ahead.

Once we got to Detroit, we had a five hour layover. We spent the time eating and exploring the massive terminal. We got on the plane at around 12:55 and the next leg of our journey had begun. I don’t think I had really thought about exactly how long fourteen hours would feel, but I had drastically underestimated. We were all exhausted, but it was difficult to sleep since the seats were rather uncomfortable. I wrote in my journal at one point during the plane ride: “I can not believe that I have to spend another 10 hours and 9 minutes on this plane,” and then: “We’re halfway through the plane ride. HALFWAY.” We spent the time watching movies and playing games on the screens in front of our seats. I was incredibly lucky; the person sitting next to me moved which meant I had an empty seat. With the help of five pillows, I was able to curl up into a somewhat comfortable ball and sleep for a few hours. The plane ride ended with some unsettling turbulence, causing almost all of us to feel nauseous, and some people threw up.

When we finally got to Beijing, everyone was almost falling asleep. We had all only gotten three or four hours of sleep in the past day, and the time zone change was not helping. Half asleep, we shuffled through the baggage claim and customs, and finally, we were out. On the bus to the hotel, it finally sunk in; I was in China. I was too tired to process most of it, but while I stared out the bus window I got really excited thinking about being completely immersed in this other culture. The first day may have been the most exhausting one of my entire life, but I look forward to the days to come.

Journey East 2016 Departs for China!

Journey East 2016 departs for China

Field trip: Students will visit cultural sites and share original production

TOWNSHEND >> On March 22, Leland and Gray Union High School students enrolled in the Journey East Program will depart for a month of performance and cultural study in China. After having been accepted into the Journey East Program at Leland and Gray in February of 2015, and starting the program in January 2016, students have been participating in a semester-long academic experience. They have been learning Chinese language, culture and history, as well as creating a unique production to be performed across China.

dare-to-dream-smallThe production, “Dare to Dream,” is directed by the long-time artistic director Jennie Connor. The musical director, a new addition to the program, is Leland and Gray music teacher Riley Goodemote. The students, under the direction of Connor and Goodemote, have been creating a show that can be enjoyed by audiences both in China and in the United States. The cultural and linguistic divide is bridged by a largely non-verbal show that uses movement and music to captivate the audience. This show will be performed in primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities in various places across China, including Guiyang and Kaili of Guizhou Province, Chongqing, Qufu (Confucius’ birthplace in Shandong Province), Hohhot, Inner Mongolia and areas around these cities.
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The variety of places that will be visited on this trip gives students a diverse and in-depth look at China and its culture. Students will see important cultural sites in each area they visit, as well as visiting schools and interacting with Chinese students. The Journey East students will stay with host families in Guizhou Province, giving them first-hand experience of life in China. In Hohhot, they will rehearse and collaborate with students from the Arts College of Inner Mongolia University. This collaboration will result in a culminating performance in front of an audience of 1,500 students and teachers at the Arts College.

Upon returning from China the Journey East group will be performing “Dare to Dream” at various places around Vermont, including an evening performance at the Leland and Gray Main Gym on Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m., that is open to the community. In addition to that performance the students will be performing at their elementary schools to share their experiences with local students.

Since Journey East began in 2000, over 250 students from rural Vermont have had the opportunity to travel to China and be immersed in China’s rich and complex culture.

This year’s group of students includes: Sarah Anderson (Wardsboro), Tino Benson (Townshend), Zoie Brooks (Jamaica), Kenny Cashman (Wardsboro), Nathan Claussen (Townshend), Adam Culver (Grafton), Sam Harrison (East Dover/Newfane), Mariah Hazard (Jamaica), Jake Ires (Windham), Maris Linder (Townshend), Patrick McDonald (Windham), Skyler Nupp (Newfane), Brianna Reed (Newfane), Fairen Stark (Newfane), Sam Thibault (Williamsville/Dummerston), and Becca Williams (Jamaica).

The adults on the trip are: Tom Connor (program director), Jennie Connor (artistic director), Jesse Riemenschneider (assistant program director), Riley Goodemote (musical director), Kevin Burke (technology coordinator) and Jen Connor (chaperone).

For more information on the trip, the performance, and the Journey East program, visit http://lelandandgray.org/journeyeast.