Travels in the Middle Kingdom

Thursday 30 October 2014

During the September holidays, I was fortunate to accompany nine Year 9 students on a Study Tour of China. We spent time in the cities of Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, and students and teachers alike were awestruck with the immense size and contrast that they provided. While statistics cannot purely explain the enormity of the country, the following are just a few staggering numbers for you:

  • There are over 5.5 million cars in Beijing alone (the traffic is extraordinary!).
  • The population of Australia lives in the greater Shanghai city area.
  • There are over 20 cities in China with a population greater than five million people.
  • China’s economy grew seven times as fast as the United States of America’s in the 2000s.

There was significant trepidation on my behalf on the day of our flight out of Melbourne. As it was my first trip with students anywhere, let alone overseas, my mind was in overdrive with questions for our illustrious, well-travelled and steadfast leader, Mrs Mary Hugh. A source of constant energy and enthusiasm, Mary’s contribution to the tour cannot be overestimated.

The nine students who travelled with us were highly supportive and engaged on the trip. The relatively small travelling group enabled students to spend quality time with each other, which has enabled many to build new friendships that have lasted well beyond the 10 days spent in China.

Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Warriors of Xian (a must for any intrepid traveller) and the Traditional Villages of the Yangtze River were all incredible experiences in their own right. Without doubt these important historical sights provided students with opportunities to visually interpret the immense and complex nature of history and culture within this vast country. As important as these sites were, the nightly discussions regarding the cultural aspects of the places we visited were as beneficial. Over dumplings or Peking duck, these sessions proved most cathartic to all members of the group, enabling us to discuss the wealth, poverty, transport, behaviours of the nation and its inhabitants.

On our last day in Beijing, we were given the opportunity to visit Beijing Hepingjie No. 1 Middle School, which is attended by hundreds of students each day. After St Catherine’s Principal, Mrs Michelle Carroll, signed the customary ‘friendship’ document, we were given the opportunity to visit an English language classroom where repetition and verbal language training was used on a grand scale. Students were called upon to answer within seconds with high accuracy and formality. It was a fascinating experience. I would encourage all teachers who are given the opportunity to travel overseas in an educational setting to visit individual classrooms and schools. While language barriers can prove difficult, the experiences and insights you obtain far exceed these initial challenges.

The St Catherine’s girls were also given the opportunity to spend the afternoon with a ‘buddy’ from the school. The Chinese students took their Australian counterparts to a local shopping area and all enjoyed the opportunity to converse in their respective languages about social and cultural similarities and differences with people of their own age from a foreign land. From an educational perspective, trips should always include time for students to meet and mix with local students as a means of developing an understanding of their way of life.

As a commerce teacher, the scale of the Chinese economy is both perplexing and vast. The quantity of apartment buildings being constructed in all three of the major cities that we visited was staggering. With millions migrating into cities and large speculation in property investment, the sheer size of development is placing enormous pressure on many to modernise their lifestyle and take financial advantage of this boom. This was reinforced by Dr Leonie Lethbridge, ANZ’s Regional Chief Operating Officer, with whom we were fortunate to spend a very interesting hour discussing the nation at ANZ’s headquarters in Shanghai.

The extraordinary sights, coupled with the cultural and social dimensions of a country still controlled by a central Communist government, made the tour a fantastic and challenging experience for teachers and students alike.

Mr Paul Stokes
Service and Leadership Coordinator

Previous Entries

Valete to the Class of 2014 Monday 27 October 2014

Our current Year 12 cohort celebrated their last day of School with an Awards Night and Valedictory Dinner last Tuesday. Here is Mrs Carroll’s address to the audience.
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Role model on the slopes Thursday 23 October 2014

Snowsports Coordinator Miss Skye Stansfield reflects on a successful season inspired by the highs and lows of a special St Catherine’s Old Girl
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