Just in Time for Chinese New Year: Beijing Students Visit BHS and JGMS

Pop music - a great equalizer: Beijing and Bedforfd students sing Karaoke - Image (c) Linda White, 2016 all rights reserved
Beijing and Bedford students sing Karaoke at the mini-carnival – Image (c) Linda White, 2016 all rights reserved

By Linda White

Visiting students perform classical Chinese dance - Image (c) JGMS, 2016 all rights reserved
Visiting students perform classical Chinese dance – Image (c) JGMS, 2016 all rights reserved

Visiting students from Beijing treated Bedford students to an early Chinese New Year celebration filled with music, traditional dance, Chinese Opera, ancient calligraphy and friendship.

One hundred students from Beijing Da Yu, Beijing #9 Middle School and Beijing #9 High School spent two days, January 27 and 28, with BHS and JGMS students.  Bedford was the first stop of their 11-day, four-city tour of the United States.

Tour Coordinator Ferry Rebergen explained, “BHS Principal Dr. Henry Turner was the first Boston area principal to respond to our inquiry regarding the possibility of an exchange. His enthusiasm and genuinely sincere invitation made Bedford an easy choice.” A busy agenda was organized at both BHS and JGMS for the visiting students.

Students were greeted in the BHS atrium by their Bedford host students at 7:30 am on January 27. Following a welcome by Dr. Turner in the auditorium, the students were paired with and introduced to Bedford students at both BHS and JGMS who would function as their one-on-hosts. “Beijing students shadowed their hosts to scheduled classes and lunch. A representative from Harvard University was onsite to meet with students after lunch and invited them to visit the campus in Cambridge. A tour of Fenway Park and introduction to the game of baseball were also on the schedule,” reported BHS Assistant Principal Kate Boynton. All students later gathered at BHS for a pizza dinner, informal performances and “getting to know you” time.

At Bedford High School

Students from Beijng and Bedford in the lobby at Bedford High School - Image (c) JGMS, 2016 all rights reserved
Students from Beijng and Bedford in the lobby at Bedford High School – Image (c) JGMS, 2016 all rights reserved

Student Mary Manning commented, “My new friend’s name is Xi Fanghan. We both share a passion for basketball, listening to music and just spending time with friends. Like me, Xi Fanghan enjoys going out to shop, seeing a movie or playing basketball with friends between her busy schedule of academic work. I really enjoyed finding similarities between our languages. You might think our different languages could be tricky or a barrier but I found that it kept our time together interesting. Each time we came across a word either of us didn’t know, we were able to find different ways of explaining it. For example, when we were talking about how she attended the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.  Xi Fanghan found she did not know the English words for track and field. So instead, she showed me a picture of Usain Bolt she had taken and said she saw him run. When we really could not find new ways of explaining, we were able to use translators to communicate. It was funny and made us laugh a lot which was helpful in breaking the ice.”

At John Glenn Middle School

Students assembled at JGMS - Image (c) JGMS
Students assembled at JGMS – Image (c) JGMS

JGMS Principal Kevin Tracey said, “We hosted 13 students and two teachers at JGMS. The Chinese students shadowed our 7th graders and their teachers received a grand tour of the school as well as attending classes. In addition to attending classes, the visiting students shared a bit of their culture with us including a lesson in Chinese calligraphy, music and traditional dance performed in costume. I commend the JGMS staff and students for providing a warm welcome and their efforts to include our Chinese friends into our classrooms.”

Lily Barsam, a JGMS student, hosted Zeze Wang. Lily observed “I was impressed by the Chinese language. The way they write and speak is interesting and complex. It was neat connecting with someone who lives on the other side of the world. We played a fun math game at lunch called Pass. I was amazed at how far Zeze and the other students traveled to come to Bedford, and I am curious now about life in China and the city of Beijing.”

A gallery of images from JGMS – click each to see it at full width

A Cultural and Social Exchange

After dinner, students participated in a Cultural Exchange and Social that included watching the tail end of the rehearsals for Waltz. BHS students Gabby Griffiths, Nate Fisette, Sophia Clouse and Jayden Heller performed selections from Cinderella their 2016 Spring Musical. The Rolling Tones, BHS’s acapella singers, presented a medley that had both groups foot tapping to the beat.

The Beijing students presented Chinese Opera with masks, traditional dance and their own pop music selections that were very appreciated by Bedford students.

A gallery of images from the cultural exchange – click each to see it at full width

Addressing the assembled students about life in China - Image (c) JMcCT
Addressing the assembled students about life in China – Image (c) JMcCT

One of the students addressed the group and described his school experience in Beijing where most of his classes have 40 students. He also explained how intensively students must prepare for the Gao Kao, a college placement test and its impact to decide a student’s future. He spoke about the pressure and time required to successfully pass the exam and family expectation that students put aside free time, recreation, any passion to play sports (especially China’s favorite sport of basketball) and the sad fact that dating is frequently forbidden.

There were many surprised faces among the Bedford students.

Kate Boynton, Melissa Hegarty, Kristen Manning at the mini-carnival - Image (c) Linda White, 2016 all rights reserved
Kate Boynton, Melissa Hegarty, Kristen Manning at the mini-carnival – Image (c) Linda White, 2016 all rights reserved

A mini carnival, coordinated by BHS parents Kristen Manning and Melissa Hegarty and the BHS Parents Association, was set up in the BHS gym.

There was a DJ spinning karaoke tunes, Bedford-themed mini golf, bean bag toss also known as CornHole, a Candy Castle and volley ball.

The volley ball court was in constant use, with no language barrier on the court. Mixed teams from both sides of the world engaged in spirited, animated competition with many High Five’s.

Tired students called it a night and left the building around 8pm and returned at 7:30 am the next morning to spend time in class with their host students.

A gallery of images from the mini-carnival – click each to see it at full width

Patrick Morrissey – Bedford’s Interpreter

Patrick Morrissey (in red) with chaperone Chu Yaqing, tour organizer Ferry Rebergen, and translator Candice Chen - Image (c) JMcCT
Patrick Morrissey (in red) with chaperone Chu Yaqing, tour organizer Ferry Rebergen, and translator Candice Chen – Image (c) JMcCT

The Beijing students traveled with a small group of teachers, a tour coordinator and chaperones. Patrick Morrissey, BHS Mathematics Department Chair, who is fluent in Chinese was on hand to help students and teachers with translation and information. Morrissey also acted as a host to two of the teachers. He explained that he acquired his command of Chinese over time, experience and focused study. After college he did a good deal of traveling and a year teaching English to junior high school and high school students near Shanghai.Returning to the US, he attended UMASS Amherst completing the M.Ed. program and intensive Chinese course work. He frequently attended Chinese/English conversation groupswhere he was fortunate to meet his future wife. An additional two years of teaching in China and language study resulted in excellent command of the language.

Morrissey reflected,“The visit by the group of students and teachers from Beijing was one of the most memorable days of the whole year for me. It was a blast! Three experiences in particular were highlights for me. First, the speech by one of the students regarding Gao Kao preparation. For Chinese students the results of this college placement exam can be life altering and represents an enormous amount of serious preparation over years. I know how hard that particular student worked to prepare his remarks and present them in English. I was proud for him.

“Second, watching karaoke by combined groups of Beijing and BHS students was priceless. Taylor Swift’s Romeo and Juliet was performed with gusto many times. I even tweeted Swift a message about how special it was to hear the students singing their hearts out to her hits. Not sure she will reply, but it was too good not to share.

“Third, after providing about a two-hour tour of BHS including the football field and observations in Math and Social Studies classrooms and the Guidance Office, the opportunity to take a tea break with two of the visiting teachers was not only necessary but proved to be quite special. It was an opportunity for us to quietly speak in Chinese and share their observations and their tea tradition here in Bedford.”

The visit came to an end far too quickly. Promises were made to stay in touch, contact information was exchanged and it was time for the Beijing students to depart for New York City their next destination where they hoped to learn more about investments and Wall Street. Additional stops included Washington, DC to tour some of the Smithsonian Museums and Orlando where they will participate in film making classes at Universal Studios.
恭禧發財Gong Xi FaCai (Happy New Year) new friends!

 

The ubiquitous cellphone video - Image (c) JMcCT, 2016 all rights reserved
Recording Bedford student performances via ubiquitous cellphone video – Image (c) JMcCT, 2016 all rights reserved

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