Tours offer up culture firsthand Youngsters gain new perspectives about people in China and Africa
Fourteen-year-old Li Yuxuan became fascinated with Africa and Africans after spending five days with foreign students on a summer study tour in Beijing.
Li was part of a Grade 7 class from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region that visited historic sites and museums in the capital. He had always been shy to talk to foreigners.
“I thought foreigners were unfriendly and it would be embarrassing for me to say hello if they didn’t answer,” Li said.
But his acquaintance with a Liberian student from China Agricultural University in Beijing impressed Li.
“Joseph always answers me warmly whenever I greet him, and we talk a lot about his country and Africa,” he said.
Joseph Toumed, 31, an assistant instructor at the summer camp, taught the young students about Africa.
“Being with them helps them to know Africa, especially my country Liberia,” he said. “They haven’t heard about Liberia. Most of them don’t know Africa or its culture. So I have been with them explaining about the beauty of Africa and the people — how friendly and warm we are.”
The African students are from Chad, Zimbabwe, Congo, Liberia, Zambia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
In November, the Ministry of Education and 10 other government agencies issued a circular encouraging primary and middle schools to organize study tours for students.
“Study tours are an important way to improve basic education reform. It combines study with trips and also effectively strings together school education and extension education, cultivating a sense of social responsibility, the spirit of innovation and practical ability,” the statement said.
He Wenping, a researcher at the Institute of West Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says it’s a good way to boost mutual understanding.
“As most Chinese young students don’t have the opportunity to travel to Africa, having African students as their tour guides or summer camp mentors could help them know more about the remote continent,” she said.
“From the perspective of the African students, it’s a chance to get some part-time income while experiencing Chinese culture firsthand and getting to know what Chinese young people are thinking about.”
Twenty-six-year old Nigerian student Raheem O. Aminu of China Agricultural University also worked with the students. He said the camp helps integrate Chinese and African cultures, provides an opportunity to correct students’ perceptions toward Africans, and helps improve their interpersonal relationships with foreigners.
“It’s an avenue for the kids to start having the right and proper orientation about Africa, and also a means for us to sell our image to them, to let them know a lot of things about Africa,” said Aminu.
“I understand their perceptions of Africa, because most of these students had negative stereotypes that Africans are poor and bad,” Joseph said.
Teachers on the tour said the interactions have given the young Chinese a glimpse of Africa.
“I think the communication and exchange of culture is very important for my students and helps improve friendship between Chinese and Africans,” said Guo Yanghong, a female teacher.
Her colleague, Cui Lei, added, “The tour improves the students’ ability to speak English or other languages and learn something about African culture.”
The African students want more interactions with these students to help them better understand Africa.
“If this starts from the middle school level and students grow up continuously being exposed to Africans it will also improve the people-topeople relationship between Chinese people and Africans,” Joseph said.
It’s an avenue for the kids to start having the right and proper orientation about Africa.” Raheem O. Aminu, Nigerian student at China Agricultural University
Alpha Daffae Senkpeni is a journalist with FrontPage Africa, based in Liberia, who is visiting China Daily as part of a 10-month China-Africa Press Centre fellowship.
Cheng Si and Jiang Chenglong contributed to this story.