In our second installation of the series “Trip Leader Tales”, we talked to The Learning Adventure’s China Operations Manager, Cherry. Keep reading to find out about Cherry’s favourite experience is as a trip leader.
At 2:00pm on 28th of Oct in 2018, I met a group of students from a school in Hong Kong for the first time. I thought that this would be a trip like any other, where students could learn about fantastic Sichuan on an experiential learning trip; I never realized this particular trip would influence me so much.
Sichuan is a charming place where you can really get close to the native giant pandas, learn more about the Chinese traditional religions of Taoism and Buddhism, enjoy insanely spicy food and experience the leisurely pace of life that Chengdu-ites are famous for.
In the 6 days I spent with these lovely children, we learned about the lives of the pandas at the Giant Panda Research Centre in great depth, wandered around traditional streets learning about local life, sketched ancient architecture at Wenshu monastery, attended an authentic Sichuan style cooking class, experienced a traditional Sichuan opera, and learned Chinese martial arts. We also hiked up to the peak of Qingcheng Mountain laughing together and enjoying the beautiful views before settling down to learn about the history and culture of Taoism.
We also completed a 1-day service project at a local migrant school, to make new friends and to think about the similarities and differences between Chinese schools and their own school. Everything was intruiging and fun to the groups of students from both schools, and more importantly, they gained an educational experience that they could never have gained from textbooks!
Panda Service Day
To learn about conservation and environmental service, our students headed to the Giant Panda Research Centre. As soon as we got there, I could feel that they loved the pandas from the bottom of their hearts. They cleaned the cages and cared for the pandas even though it was a little malodorous. As is the case with many international school students, almost all of the kids were not used to doing or had never done, housework back at home. However, this group cleaned the panda poop with enthusiasm!
Two students in the group were students with special needs. Initially, the research centre refused to allow them to feed the Pandas bamboo citing safety reasons. We tried our best to negotiate with them for a long time, but because they had so little experience with students’ with special needs, they had very strong and incorrect preconceptions students with special needs. The situation left me frustrated and sad because my team and I knew that their citing safety clauses were invalid.
After hours of reasoning and pleading with the research centre, we finally succeeded in convincing the local staff about the ability, not disability, of these students with special needs. Compared to the mood in the morning when they had been told that they could not participate, the mood was extremely joyful after feeding the pandas. It was all that they could talk about and I was overwhelmed by the happiness and thanks they expressed to me.
It was a really beautiful and sunny day when we visited the local school, even though it was Halloween! After a special welcoming ceremony, our students participated with the local students in their lessons. Then, they split into groups to carve jack-o-lanterns, sing, and play games-based learning activities in the playground. Our group was polite and kind to the local students and we exchanged gifts with each other. They tried their hardest to remember the Chinese names of their new friends, even though they found them hard to pronounce. The school was full of laughter and happiness. and I felt so proud and touched because both groups were so willing to embrace the differences and find the similarities between themselves in each other, even though they had never met before.
I felt very lucky to have been able to spend the 6 days of our experiential learning trip with these lovely students. I will cherish this memory with them forever and look forward to seeing them somewhere in the world next time. You never know! I feel lucky that I could provide them with a bridge to know more about Sichuan, environmental conservation, and Chinese culture.
My work becomes worth it when the students on our Learning Adventures say that they have learned a lot, and their thanks always remind me of the positive impact that I can have on our students’ journeys of growth. I, myself, always look forward to Learning Adventures!
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