April 7 was the beginning of a two-week trip to China for 12 Potomac fifth-graders in the Chinese Immersion program, along with four teachers and extended families that totaled a tour group of 50.
The 7th was a rocky start, as United cancelled the flight out of Washington and 42 of the travelers missed the connecting flight to Beijing, but everyone arrived in China by late Sunday, and the group began a packed two-week adventure.
In Beijing, the group started off Monday morning riding in "Pedi cabs" (carriages pulled by a bicycle) in Old Town, visiting a local artist's home and ancient drum towers, then headed off to the Forbidden City and Tien an Man Square. Tuesday was the Great Wall, and then an overnight train ride to Xian, where students marveled over the discovery of the Terra Cotta Soldiers, and rode bikes around the Old City Wall. Next, the group flew off to Chengdu to visit the Panda Reserve and play with Red Pandas — the highlight of the trip for many. Our fourth city was Guilin, central to the lake region and known for its sharp mountain peaks. The group visited marvelous caverns and climbed Fubo Hill, and took a stunning cruise down the Li River.
Our tour ended in Shanghai, where the students visited their sister school (the Aiju Art School), and pen pals they have been writing during their course of study. After exchanging gifts and greetings, the Immersion students participated in class work for the morning. The remaining time in Shanghai included a lot of shopping, visits to gardens and the Bund district, and constant use of our negotiating skills.
During the tour, there were always two buses, with the children speaking and hearing Chinese on one and parents getting tours in English on the other. It was amazing to watch our children communicate with the locals, and even more fun watching the reaction of the locals when they realized the students really did speak Mandarin.
The children often performed, singing traditional Chinese songs and attracting large crowds. The trip proved to be the best possible reinforcement for learning language at an early age, as many of the children want to go back and understand even more.