On a beautiful day in June, we brought our hopes and excitement with us to participate in the 2006 Inner City Kids in China Program. This was an unforgettable experience that I will undoubtedly draw upon in the future.
A Voyage Filled with Purpose
In this year's program, participants included workers from the Phelex Foundation, students from Guangzhou and Beijing , students and teachers from China and America , and the students at XingLong Vocational School . Through everyone's hard work and efforts, we have successfully completed all necessary assignments. Not only did we thoroughly enjoy our visits to old and new Beijing and the historical sites of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Ding Tomb, Summer Palace , Laoshe Tea House, and Wuyu Tai Tea House, we also experienced life with the locals in the countryside in Hebei . After participating in many activities and experiences which included showering together, living together in dorms, planting bonsai trees, and selling bonsai trees, we broadened our horizon beyond ourselves and exchanged cultures with all participants.
Getting Acquainted with people all over the world
The teachers of the Phelex Foundation were always very caring, friendly, and responsible while at the same time humorous and fun. The teachers planned everything out for us and joined us in the sports competitions, bonsai planting, and performances as if we were the same age. The American teachers respected all the students views and opinions and possessed great knowledge and wisdom.
The American students were all unique and interesting individuals with self-confidence; they were very friendly to each other. We were fortunate to get to know the comprehensive Ashley, the very open Vanessa, the understanding and multilingual Carla, the capable Vivian, the humorous Aina, the friendly Shauntay, the handsome and candy-loving Breno, the exaggerating rap affectionate Luke, Roland with the air of a gentleman, and the cute and loving Chinese-American Hallie. In the nine days that we lived together, we not only improved our English but also got a better understanding of other customs and cultures in China and America . We admired their determination as they ate with chopsticks they did not know how to use. We watched them change from the students who desperately need fried chicken, orange juice, and swimming pools to the people who declared their love for China at the end. We watched ourselves change from not being able to stand the strange dress and lifestyle of Americans to understanding and forming friendships with each other. We were astonished at how much our English improved: from getting tongue tied when speaking English to conversing without difficulty. We never could have dreamed of all this before we attended the program.
In XingLong , Hebei , we also got to know many local students who were all warmhearted, open, talkative, caring, and unselfish. From the horticulture students, we learned how to make bonsais and how to sell them and we played sports along with their athletes. Through all of this, I truly felt how much they cared about friendship and the happiness they get from helping others with their efforts. This, I believe, is the difference between urban and suburban students.
During our visit to Luhe High School in Beijing , we also felt the pride that their students have in themselves and their school.
Differences in customs and lifesyle
During the program, we noticed differences in Chinese and American customs.
1) Americans view independence and democracy very importantly and respect the opinions of others. When buying items, they must be present during the sale and buy what they want themselves. They do not have to attend class, but are free to express themselves in the classroom. However, their respect for their teachers allows them to listen attentively in class. Their parents cannot beat or scold them at will; they encourage them to do what they like to do. In contrast, Chinese people attach more importance to discipline.
2) The Chinese students can suffer through more than American students. This is exemplified at the Great Wall, where the Americans needed a rest every few steps while the Chinese students would climb the wall till the end.
3) Americans like to eat meat more than vegetables. They cannot be separated from chicken, orange juice, and milk, while Chinese people eat anything that is put on their plate without shunning vegetables.
4) American students usually have a clear goal set ahead of them and fight for that dream job, while Chinese students think about their grades first, then worry about their career.
5) Americans live life with liberty and like to party, listen to music, shop, and play sports as opposed to Chinese students who don't have much free time to think about such things.
What I gained from this spiritual experience
First of all, I gained self confidence during the program. We were suddenly assigned to perform during the evening gala, so we had no choice but to see through it to the end. Surprisingly enough, we received thunderous applause when we were finished. Being the only Chinese in a group during exercises, I felt a great sense of achievement as I helped Americans bargain, sell bonsais, sing songs, make paper cuttings, and most importantly, translate. This really increased my self-esteem and helped me understand my own uniqueness and potential.
Next, I learned the similarities and differences between cultures after living with them, talking with them, and establishing connections between them. I realized my own strengths and weaknesses while learning how to accept and respect differences with others. I must learn from others and not cage myself up in my own little world. I now understand there is a world outside of me.
Third, I was able to develop my individual abilities. I washed my own clothes, packed my own things, took care of myself, and completed assignments on my own. To a child born in the city, this was a totally new experience.
Last, I learned how to communicate with others. During the program, I always had to be optimistic about everything, think for others, and willingly help people. People need to encourage and admire one another and treat all things with justice. In life, there is no need to be picky or selfish. Learn how to appreciate the pleasures of life with others.
This is what I learned after my experience during this program. We were touched by the loving and caring attitudes of the Phelex Foundation and teachers, the friendship with students, and the heartfelt appreciation between people. Thank you for this opportunity in the 2006 Inner City Kids in China Program, and I hope I can someday meet all of you again!
By:Kitty Yuan in Guangzhou
  
[Thoughts from American students]