BLOOMINGTON -- Kind, warm-hearted people, beautiful scenery, and a school like a family full of love -- these were some of the lasting memories of six Chinese visitors who spent two weeks with families and myself at St. Mary School in Bloomington.
Last spring I visited China and set up an exchange program with Shijiazhuang Middle School Number 40 and Principal Yunhong Li.
The China Exchange Initiative and Wisconsin Department of Education were instrumental in bringing the two schools together for a partnership.
Chinese visit Wisconsin
Four 13-year-old students accompanied their teacher, Pengchu Li, and their principal to Wisconsin to begin immersion into the lives of families in Lancaster and Mt. Hope.
The students were able to try out a lifestyle of star-lit nights, trick or treating, farming chores, biking, scouting, hiking, and exploring the Mississippi River.
We took them to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as well as a family wedding at the Sinsinawa Mound.
The contrast between our rural lifestyle and city life in Shijiazhuang with nine million people could not have been more profound.
The principal was completely taken with our small Catholic school of 69 students in kindergarten to eighth grade. She is in charge of 250 teachers and 3,500 students in her city.
She spoke very little English, but our students saw that language didn’t interfere with the mutual respect and admiration that we shared for each other as principals.
The Chinese students quickly became accustomed to the hugs in the kindergarten class and the sincere interest that our students took in their lives. They participated in our school’s Halloween “haunted house” and carnival, which included costumes and lots of treats and candy.
Each day their teacher Li sent photos and stories about daily life in southwestern Wisconsin back to 10,000 people who were following her stories about St. Mary’s and day to day life with a family.
Many things in common
We found that we had many more things in common than differences between us.
As educators we are passionate about our students’ ability to learn and experience new things. The students in St. Mary’s are motivated to learn more about China with the hope of visiting our new friends someday.
Exchanges take energy, friendship, and respect to maintain. We nourish these qualities in our Catholic school, and the next group of students is already looking forward to another exchange with our school next fall.
Principal Li calls me “big sister” and this complement is not taken lightly. The world can become a better place by embracing one another as sisters and brothers.