Journey across Pacific forges bond of friendship between Chinese, U.S. teens

March 24, 2024
Updated 2024/03/24 at 8:05 PM
5 Min Read
Members of a delegation of high school students from the U.S. state of Washington pose for a photo at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in Beijing, capital of China, March 20, 2024. (Xinhua/Yin Gang)

BEIJING (Xinhua) — Standing on a beacon tower of the Mutianyu Great Wall in Beijing, U.S. high school student Montserrat Romero-Rocha doodled her cartoon portrait on a message board on the wall, along with the words “Monce Loves China!”

Romero-Rocha, member of a delegation of high school students from the U.S. state of Washington, is visiting China from March 17 to 27, as part of a program dedicated to promoting youth communication and exchanges between the two countries. The delegation includes students and staff members from the state’s Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, during his trip to the United States in November 2023, announced the program to invite 50,000 American youths to China in the next five years for exchanges and study.

“I was so excited as I never experienced this and I feel like it is such a cool thing,” said Yuti Thakor, a girl from Steilacoom High School, as she learned from her father that it was President Xi who invited them to visit China.

“I don’t know much about the Chinese culture, but seeing a lot of other people, trying to understand and communicate, and getting to know what they do is really interesting,” said Thakor.

All 24 students in the delegation are visiting China for the first time. During their stay in Beijing, the delegation visited historical landmarks such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and venues for hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The students also visited the campuses of several Chinese schools, participated in cultural activities such as martial arts and fan painting with Chinese peers.

At Tsinghua University High School, 11th grader Shang Xinyue and her newly met U.S. friend, Annaliese Colbaugh from Lincoln High School, added each other as friends on WeChat. Colbaugh downloaded the social media app before coming to China, and Shang was her first Chinese friend on WeChat. Both girls share a common love for sports.

“I was surprised to see that she likes my moments post, and I hope we could keep in touch,” Shang said.

Colbaugh’s schoolmate Adian Russum wove seven hearts with red knitting wool as gifts for the Chinese students. During a social event held at the National Stadium, or the “Bird Nest”, he gave one heart to Gong Tiantian, a 10th grader from Beijing No. 80 Middle School.

“I’m so glad I did decide to take this opportunity, otherwise, I don’t think I will be able to learn as much as I am right now,” said Russum.

As the event came to an end, Russum invited Gong to visit his school and told her to text him if she ever visits the United States.

Lincoln High School music teacher Lynn Eisenhauer is on her fourth trip to China. She still remembers the scene from Xi’s visit to the school in 2015, where Xi invited 100 students from the school to visit China in the following year.

Eisenhauer, along with another over 100 staff and students from the school, visited China in 2016.

“The legacy continues. More students are allowed to have the experience,” said Eisenhauer.

“For them to come here, to walk on the ground and to hear the stories, really gives them a grander idea of why relationships matter.”

She said the excitement is to bring more kids to see the world from a different perspective. Their ideas change and grow over time, and they have friendship with individual students that may last for a lifetime.

“I believe in the power of the relationships between people and countries,” Eisenhauer said, adding she hopes the students are “empowered to realize that they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

“Even just meeting one of the students and having conversations, you move the world a little bit,” she said.

The delegation left Beijing on Friday and headed to Shiyan in central China’s Hubei Province. They will later visit Guangzhou and Shenzhen in south China’s Guangdong Province.

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