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Young Ambassadors from Western Heights High School, Rotorua, report on their project visit to Nanchang

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To mark the 2012 sixtieth anniversary of the founding the New Zealand China Friendship Society, and to reflect the spirit of Rewi Alley of promoting friendly exchange between China and New Zealand, the China Oceania Friendship Association (COFA) provided 1 million RMB, to be provided to NZCFS at 200,000 RMB annually for five years, for the annual funding of “… projects in terms of cultural and art exchange, educational exchange and youth exchange which aim to promote China-New Zealand friendship”.  Applications for funding of projects under the Rewi Alley Friendship and Exchange (RAFE) Fund are called for annually. In 2014, funding was allocated to this Young Ambassadors project.

Following are lovely stories by two students, Daele Stainton and Mandy Chiu, from Western Heights High School, Rotorua, who were elected as Young Ambassadors, along with Jane Yang Yuqing:

Young Ambassadors Report, April 6th – April 20th 2015, by Daele Stainton, Western Heights High School, Year 13

“THANK YOU TO NZ CHINA FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY FOR GIVING ME THIS OPPORTUNITY.

“This was the second time I was offered the opportunity to take part in the Young Ambassadors Educational Trip to China, but the first time I was able to take the opportunity. It was a huge opportunity to experience the culture and lives of those in another country, a country we have learnt so much about since beginning to learning Chinese at school. I had heard about the pollution of the environment and the population, so I became apprehensive as to how I would feel there. Would I fit in and what would they think of me? This was my first trip out of New Zealand, and also without my family, but I was lucky enough to go on this trip with 2 of my friends and classmates, Mandy Chiu and Yang Yuqing (Jane), and we were accompanied by our Chinese teacher, Mrs Laytee George.

“Upon our arrival at Nanchang Airport, we were greeted by the teachers of the school we would attend and study at throughout the duration of our stay, alongside the student and parents of our Host Families. My host sister’s name is Cai Yu Xuan. She was accompanied by her mum at the airport and from here we returned home for lunch with the family. She lives on the 5th storey of a 7 storey apartment block with her Mum, Dad, Grandmother and Grandfather. Today I would meet her grandparents at lunch that they had prepared for my arrival. After lunch I was given the time to make myself at home and the opportunity to attend afternoon classes with my host sister. I was scared and shy to begin with. However, my host family were very caring and supported me in my transition from New Zealand life to Nanchang life, extending this to school life. I was amazed by their schedule at school and how friendly the students were. They all greeted me and talked to me throughout the breaks, curious to find out more about me and New Zealand. I then met her father later on in the day, who has a demanding job at the local hospital. We sat down as a family for dinner that night. I quickly adapted to Nanchang life due to my host family and new school friends’ admirable hospitality and friendliness.

“The school we attended was Middle School attached to Nanchang University (MSANU), where students’ educational programmes consist of 13 lessons a day, with a 5–10 minute break after 2-3 classes. After the 5 morning lessons they are given a 2 hour lunch break when they can choose to go home, to town or to the student canteen for lunch. Going to town is convenient as the school is very central to shopping malls and small food shops. Students also have a 25 minute break where they complete morning exercises as a whole school. An hour and 20 minute break is given for the students to eat dinner before returning to night classes. This is the schedule of a 5 day week, but students also have classes at the weekend on Saturdays. Most days my class were tested and on some days they had exams for each subject, which requires study after a long day. Compared to New Zealand schools, it sometimes meant sleeping around midnight or sometimes even later.

“On my first full day I was shocked to see that students don’t have a uniform, and that there are 5 storeys to the school. Luckily I had class on the first floor, but at times we were needed on the 4th floor, this is where the international office is located, a place where we could seek help and or support from the teachers of this department. The students at school in my classes and other classes were all very friendly, asking where I came from, my opinion of China, and so the list went on. They were so curious, which was a nice reminder of home. Today we were also welcomed and greeted by the Deputy Principal and warmly welcomed by the teachers who came to our meeting. I was also shown to the toilets at school, which were squatting toilets and not pedestal toilets. I had been told about them but never expected the reality; it was a definite surprise and culture shock. They had such toilets in public at restaurants and at home. Sometimes toilet paper wasn’t provided so we had to use tissues.

“The few things that I surprised me most were: Food, Pollution and Traffic. I was already aware that Nanchang weather was similar to New Zealand’s, where the weather can change abruptly and without warning – it provided a sort of homely feel to the experience. Although in comparison, on rainy days it would get cold quickly, for example the temperature could drop down to 6°C. On sunny days the temperature would go up to 25°C. Nanchang traffic on the other hand was something I have never experienced. The cars get very close to one another, and I was involved in so many near misses during my time that I lost count. It is very scary at all times. I didn’t like crossing roads by myself for the first few days; my host family would help me cross most of the time. The morning, at lunch time and after school were the worst times, as traffic was very heavy all over the city. But by the end of week one I had adapted and was used to the traffic, although near misses were still a scare. Pollution wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated – I was able to cope with most of the air pollution. However, it was pretty bad in some cities compared to others. I didn’t like the fact that they would just toss litter out of the car window, or just drop it on the ground while walking through the streets. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t walk a few metres to a rubbish bin to dispose of rubbish, although I did notice they reused plastic bags from stores. The food was spicy at times, but they offered a great variety for me to choose from, and at times I had dishes cooked to my liking so I would be able to eat and enjoy it. I found that their SMALL amount of chilli and spice was my ‘TOO MUCH’. But over time I got used to the spices used at home and food was not a problem. On the other hand, food in restaurants that I went to tended to be slightly hotter than food at home; red peppers were very common in the city as you were able to buy them anywhere. Overall, with the help and support of my host family and newly acquired classmates at school I was able to overcome these issues and it soon became normality.

“Throughout our stay in Nanchang we were fortunate enough to meet and study alongside the German and Italian Exchange Students who were also in the school. We went sightseeing together to places such as LuShan, which I found very interesting and loved learning more about them. The history was linked back to the Gods, and even the soldiers who fought in the war of Nanchang [Editor’s note: Nanchang Uprising, 1927, also Battle of Nanchang, against the Japanese, 1939]. We became good friends with the exchange students over time, and they were also introduced to the other students who had come to China for a month. The Germans and Italians were very curious as to our opinions of China, comparisons to New Zealand, the purpose of our journey etc. They were also very friendly and willing to give anything a go. I even did a few Chinese interactions with one of the Italian students, which helped me with my NCEA work.

“During my time in Nanchang I made many new lifelong friends from China, Germany and also Italy. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in China and if I were brutally honest, I didn’t want to return home, especially not to school and internals [NCEA internal assessment], but it had to happen. My host family did offer for me to stay longer, and they were prepared to have me again at any given time, which I was truly grateful for and in admiration of. I really missed my family and when I came home I found it very hard to re adapt to life in New Zealand as I had become used to waking up early and returning home later in the day. Even though school here in New Zealand is a lot shorter, I found it hard and long in a way.

“I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend this Programme and learn more about Nanchang history and culture. It was a very memorable experience, and I am glad to have made many new friends from other countries. Although there were many differences, I still found ways to make Nanchang my home and I believe I would have missed out on very many unforgettable activities that we don’t have in New Zealand and am glad to be able to say I have been to China. In comparison I like the way that Chinese school is run: teachers are stricter and the students are responsible for their learning, they are tested often in order to ensure they are learning at a considerable rate. I like that school was self-directed to a point, as this is what I will need to learn for university.”

Daele Stainton

Young Ambassadors Report, April 6th – April 20th 2015, by Mandy Chiu, Western Heights High School, Year 13

“THANK YOU TO NZ CHINA FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY FOR GIVING ME THIS OPPORTUNITY.

“Going on a Young Ambassadors educational trip was a huge opportunity to experience life in an entirely different country. Before the trip I was completely oblivious to what might happen to me. I didn’t have high expectations because I always heard that the air and water pollution was bad. I went on this trip with Laytee George and two other students. The two other students who came with me on the Young Ambassadors trip were Daele Stainton and Yuqing Yang. When I got to the arrival hall of Nanchang Airport, teachers, students and parents welcomed us. My host student’s name is Hu Meng Yuan. When I first met her she gave me a massive plushie [soft stuffed toy]. That day I was introduced to her family; the mother, father and younger sister. It was my first time being apart from my family because I have never travelled out of New Zealand without them. I was a bit worried whether I would fit in with the family or the culture. However, the family warmly welcomed me into their home and accepted me into their family from the beginning and made me feel like I was at home.

“The school was Nanchang University attached to a High School; the school is five storeys high and the students wear uniform. The first day of school I was welcomed by the deputy principal and accepted as a classmate in the class I stayed in. What surprised me was during one of their breaks, they rushed over and crowded me asking me if I could speak Chinese, where did I come from, do you like it here so far? It was very lively and everyone was curious about us. The students educational programme has a total of 13 classes each day. After about 2 to 3 periods they have a 5 to 10 minute break; they also have a 25 minute break when all the students go to the field to do their daily exercise routine. The lunch break is 2 hours so students can either go home or go to the city for lunch. The school is within the city so going anywhere is very convenient. Then dinner is about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Even after a long day, they still have to do homework and study for the next day. School is from Monday to Friday; in my class every Tuesday and Thursday they are tested on their subjects. The exams they have are monthly, mid-term and end of year.

“I had quite a culture shock when I arrived in Nanchang: every dish we had was extremely spicy wherever we ate, from outdoors to home and from breakfast till dinner. Red Peppers were very common in the city as you can buy them anywhere. You need to squat to go to the toilet whether in the bathroom, in public and at home but thankfully occasionally there were some toilet seats.

“Weather in Nanchang changes very quickly during rainy days the temperature goes down to 6 degrees Celsius and on sunny days the temperature goes up to 25 degrees Celsius. The traffic in Nanchang during all hours of the day is scary especially during the morning when students get dropped off, lunch break, and when students get picked up. However, I got used to these changes quickly with some support from my host student, her sister and mother. It wasn’t too bad getting around the city. I thought the pollution would be unbearable but it wasn’t as bad as I believed it would be and I got used to it very quickly.

“During my stay I met exchange students from Italy and Germany, and became good friends with them. Together we went sightseeing and checked out the main attractions in Nanchang which I found very interesting. Its history goes back to that of the gods, the artists and the soldiers of Nanchang who fought bravely in war. By the end of this trip I knew I would really miss Nanchang and the family. It was a great experience of the culture there compared to New Zealand. If I hadn’t gone I would have missed out on so much as they have more of a wider range of activities compared to New Zealand. Also the bonds you make with the students over in Nanchang are closer as they are willing to have you again as their exchange student.”

Mandy Chiu