LIVINGSTON, NJ – In early April, Livingston High School (LHS) sent 15 students to China as part of a student exchange program with Zhengzhou No. 9 High School of Henan and Huazhong High School of Beijing. Nine days later—after attending classes, journeying through three time periods of Chinese culture, six Chinese cities, a bike ride atop a city wall, and a visit to the Terracotta Warrior shrine—the LHS students returned home.

Wednesday, conducted an interview with Lucy Lee, LHS world language teacher, and the students who participated in the exchange trip to hear their stories and learn of their experiences.

“The trip was incredible,” said Jeremy Knopf, LHS student board of education representative. “It was a nice pallet pleaser of what you can do in China.”

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The student exchange program was initiated in the fall when Lucy Lee and LHS Principal Mark Stern traveled to China for the 2013 Chinese Bridge Delegation, a weeklong program in China to help educators start or strengthen their institution's Chinese programs and partnerships.

While in China, Lee periodically emailed back to the LHS staff in NJ, reporting on the trip. One e-mail, accounted an interaction she had with Zhengzhou 9 High School Principal, discussing the goals of the exchange program.

“We discussed the importance of educating young people in the mind, the heart, and the spirit.”

In a separate email, LHS assistant principal Greg Vacca noted the student’s enthusiasm to simply embrace China.

“Everywhere we went, our students would take the initiative to spark conversation with the locals as a way to practice their Chinese and to learn something new.”

Skyler Granatir, LHS student, said that perhaps the greatest lesson he learned was to not trust preconceived notions about other cultures.

“In America, the image of China is really distorted. We see China as a place where their people lack certain freedoms and aren’t very happy. I came out of China knowing that that isn’t true. The people there were really friendly to us.”

Vacca added a similar sentiment. “For all of the outward differences, the conversations that we had with [Chinese] individuals showed that we are all striving for the same things: health, happiness, and success. We had some experiences in China that we could never have at home, but the people [there] are not that different from us.”

Although the Chinese citizens may share many similarities with American citizens, the LHS students did take notice of some particular differences in Chinese lifestyle.

“The Chinese school day is much longer then the American school day. It goes from the early hours of the morning to late at night,” said Dylan Camche. “Because of that [the Chinese] students don’t really have any time for extracurricular activities.”

Samantha Duong said it was interesting to see and experience the difference in her fellow student’s lifestyle up close, which she might not have understood had she not participated in the student exchange.

Katrina Yee said that being in China did not just broaden her sociological beliefs but her pallet as well.

“Every day we had these really exotic dishes. At a vegan Monastery we ate a sweet-and sour-eel-thing. It was crunchy and just really tasty. I’m gonna miss some of the food we had there. In America, we don’t have anything like it.”

Near the end of the interview, Knopf said that one the goals he hoped to achieve in the course of the exchange program was to reach out and make connections with fellow students from China.

“I believe the trip was successful in that regard,” said Knopf. “A lot of [the Livingston students] exchanged information with the Chinese students. Even though we may never see [the Chinese students] again, physically, through telecommunication, I think those are friendships that are going to last.”