NEWARK - On the eve of his first plane ride, Jhasaad Shiggs is ready to leave his Newark home for no ordinary trip. He's going to cross a continent and an ocean. Destination: China.
"I've never really been out of Newark, and for me to get this chance, it's amazing," said Shiggs, 17, an 11th grader at the Marion P. Thomas Charter High School in Newark. "It's really good for me and for my future, too,"
Shiggs is part of a group of 10 young members of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties program that embarks for China for a just over a week-long trip Friday and returns next Saturday. This marks the first time that Big Brothers Big Sisters is taking an international trip.
While in the largest and most-populated country in Asia, the group will make three main stops: Beijing, China's capital city; the famed Great Wall of China, not far from the city; and Jilin Huaqiao University of Foreign Language in Changchun. During their time in China, the young men and women from northern New Jersey will immerse themselves in Chinese culture, learning the language and sampling the cuisine. Above all, the participants will get a chance to interact with the people of China as part of an immediately impactful learning experience.
"We are so excited for this inaugural enrichment experience for our students," said Carlos Lejnieks, president & CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson & Union Counties. "This perspective-offering trip will have our students be exposed to community service in a global setting, classroom learning in a vastly new environment, and cultural exchange with international peers."
Supporters of the young men and women going to China spoke out about what they believe the trip will achieve.
"This is a wonderful thing," said Kay Minus of Jersey City, with her daughter Kellie, 15, by her side. "Our children here in the inner city aren't exposed to a lot of things. Now my daughter is going to be exposed to a whole other country."
"I like all of the Asian cultures and want to see them in person- Japan, South Korea, and China," added Kellie. "Now I can strike China off the list."
"He has no idea how wide-eyed he's going to be during the time that he's there. He's going to come back a different person," said Bill Javetski, who has been Jhasaad Shiggs' Big Brother for eight years. "He's really going to set himself up for college applications and for the next stage of his life."
As he begins one of the most interesting and exciting experiences of his life, Shiggs is ready to see past his everyday existence to a different world beyond Newark.
"There have been a lot of shootings in my neighborhood in Newark. When I go to China, I'm not going to get shot if I wear one color or the other," Shiggs said. "Someone told me that I'm destined to be more that what happens in the streets. I'm excited to put more into my brain. Learning something new in China, I can come back a new man."