From Tucson to Changsha:
China through the Kaleidoscope of a Curious Traveler with 18 Exchange Students
(You may see our China photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/edipyuksel/China2008 )
I went to China knowing only one Chinese word, nǐ hǎo (hello), and after two weeks I returned with only one additional word, "xiè xiè" (thanks, which is pronounced 'she-ay, she-ay' with falling tone on the first word). That is it! For someone who is a polyglot and teaches both at college and K-12, this performance in acquiring another language might be considered disappointing. Since English is chronologically my fifth language, I had little motivation to add a sixth language in my linguistically tortured and fragmented brain. Instead, I focused on other things. Though I did not dare to penetrate the insurmountable walls of Chinese calligraphy and tones, during a short trip I learned a lot about Chinese people, their country, their culture, and about us.
As a Kurdish-Turkish-American author/philosopher/educator/activist, as a curious adventurer with too many hyphens and slashes, I decided to share with you my observation through my seasoned kaleidoscope.
Our Aquiline, Straight, and Hawk Noses Standout in China
Together with four other parents and teachers, I accompanied 18 exchange students, including my 13 year-old son, from Accelerated Learning Lab in Tucson, to Lushan International Experimental School in Changsha for a two week academic and social adventure. Our exchange students, whose ages ranged between 8 and 16 (with average age of 11.8, median of 12, and mode of 9), were academically way ahead of their peers here and abroad; six of the students had taken six semesters of AP classes and tests in Calculus, Physics, and Biology, besides History, English and Chinese. They had already received college credits while they were in Middle school. The team in which my son was a member had just received first place in Algebra at the annual Math Fair competition organized by the University High among Middle school students, beating other top schools in Tucson. Two years in row. They won first, second and third prizes at Arizona's Science Olympiad in numerous categories and demonstrated similar performance at Language Fair competitions in Turkish and Chinese. The elementary students were no different. For instance, the 8 years-old girl was finishing the intermediate algebra. This trip was a reward for their extraordinary academic accomplishment. So, we considered ourselves lucky for traveling with a group of academically and behaviorally excellent group of kids.
The moment we arrived to Changsha we noticed that we were noticed; indeed very much noticed by the Chinese. When we walked, they turned their heads and occasionally stared at us. When David, the headmaster, told us in advance that we would be treated like rock stars, I thought he was exaggerating as he occasionally does. However, it was an accurate description of Chinese reaction to us, and it was an understatement regarding their reaction to some younger students, especially the blond ones; they felt that they were like Pandas in the San Diego zoo.