Tacoma students revel in China trip
High school students from Tacoma, Washington recently returned from the trip of a lifetime to China, which was initiated by a personal invitation from President Xi Jinping last year.
The 100 students — 56 girls and 44 boys — from Lincoln High School returned home on Tuesday after the 11-day trip. Xi had invited them to tour China in September 2015, when he visited the Puget Sound area at the start of his state visit to the US.
The students visited Hong Kong, Fuzhou (the capital of Fujian province and sister city of Tacoma), Chengdu in Sichuan province, and finally Beijing.
They visited historical landmarks such as the Great Wall and Forbidden City and learned about China’s culture, society and history.
They also engaged with their Chinese peers and visited local schools.
Araya Zackery, a sophomore, sported both the Chinese and American flags in her hair upon her arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. She said she was very excited about the trip and hoped to return with her family soon.
“During that visit (in 2015), President Xi asked if my kids (Lincoln students) had studied abroad,” recalled Lincoln High School Principal Pat Erwin. “No, my kids are very poor,” he said.
Lincoln, one of the city’s most diverse high schools, has a high student-poverty rate. More than 75 percent of Lincoln students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
When Xi heard about the students’ economic challenges, he invited 100 of them to visit China. He said he hoped they would “know China better” after the trip and that “hopefully you will fall in love with China”.
The Chinese government covered the group’s expenses in China, including airfare.
In Hong Kong, where the trip started, the students marveled at the city’s famous skyline.
Austin Moeung, a junior, told China Daily, “Hong Kong is very impressive and active. And it is very similar to many of the cities here.”
The group then flew to Fuzhou, where Xi once was a government official. The president also had visited Tacoma more than 20 years ago to help set up the sister-city arrangement.
Austin said Fuzhou is his favorite city because he befriended Chinese students there. “My friends are friendly and smart,” he said.
In each city, the students were paired with teens at host schools. Many students mentioned that interaction as the favorite part of the trip.
In Fuzhou, they visited Fuzhou Education College Affiliated High School, attending classes and mingling with the local students.
“I met my partner Chong in Fuzhou, and he is amazing,” said Alex Gillies, a junior student. “He told me a lot about the city and his school and was always ready to help.”
Gillies even downloaded the WeChat app to keep in touch with his new friend in China.
The students also visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding on Oct 14. They got to see three adult giant pandas, eight panda cubs and a number of red pandas.
Ron Chow, one of the Americans who helped organize the tour, is co-chairman of the Washington State Panda Foundation, which is trying to convince China to grant two pandas to a western Washington zoo.
Two zoos in the state, Woodland Park in Seattle and Point Defiance in Tacoma, have expressed concerns about the costs and care required to support pandas.
Chow, who was on the tour with the Lincoln group, said he does not see finding sponsors or the funding to be a hurdle.
“With all the multinational companies and the wealth we have generated in the Seattle region, I really think financially it should not be an issue,” he said.
Beijing was the last stop on the tour, and in addition to the Great Wall and Forbidden City, the students also visited Tiananmen Square and Bayi High School.
Junior Klarissa Lumsden told Xinhua that “before the trip, I thought this was a city with a lot of historical sites (but) cold. But I was surprised by finding China a fascinating place, a mix of ancient and modern cultures. I want to keep in touch with my new friends in China and come back to revisit the city.”
To cap off the excitement, the students returned home on a new Hainan Airlines airplane – a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner – with a specially designed livery featuring characters from the Kung Fu Panda film franchise.
One hundred students from Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington returned on Tuesday from an 11-day trip to China that was initiated by a personal invitation from President Xi Jinping last year.