By Dustin Luca
---- — While many Andover families may travel for April vacation next week, one group of high school students will visit to the other side of the globe.
Around a dozen students will spend their week at the Hengshui School in China’s Hebei’s province next week, where they will sit in on Chinese classes, visit landmarks and even perform in a music festival.
The trip is made possible through a $11,000 grant from the Asia Society’s Confucius Classrooms program. Each student had to pay $2,200 to attend the trip, and no additional cost was borne by the school district, according to Jorge Allain, world language program advisor.
Andover High School Principal Chris Lord said the trip is “a great opportunity for the kids to learn about a culture they have read about and studied.”
For district Superintendent Marinel McGrath, the effect on each student extends far beyond being able to apply classroom lessons.
“You can never know how much it will impact their awareness, the opportunity to have a different perspective, to build a greater understanding, greater tolerance,” she said.
Many of the students agreed.
“Learning Chinese is one thing in a classroom. Going over there is a completely different thing,” student Ali Hale said. “There is nothing like going and getting hands-on and seeing it for yourself.”
The students will stay on the Hengshui School’s campus for most of the trip, according to Chinese teacher Mei Lynn. At one point, they’ll break off and visit landmarks like the Great Wall of China and Forbidden City.
However, not all of the students going over know how to speak Chinese. Some are going for the trip’s extra-curricular value.
“Once I heard about this opportunity, I wanted to go to learn about the education system or to learn about the culture,” student Hugh Smith said.
Student Michael Hanscom said the trip is “one of those things where, if I don’t do it now, I will never get to do it.”
“If you have an opportunity to explore a culture so different than your own, you should do it,” he said.
The students are also playing at a music festival at the school. Their performance will center around a single theme: traveling through America.
“We’re kind of showing them America through its arts,” student Devika Ranjan said. “You don’t need language to communicate.”
The students will leave on Saturday, and their flight to China will take them over the North Pole, according to Lord. They’ll return Sunday afternoon, the day before school returns to session.
For school officials, there’s a hope that student trips abroad will continue in the future as Andover High School develops a relationship with the Hengshui School to become the town’s “friendship school.”
With the relationship, Chinese and American students would regularly travel internationally to visit each other’s schools. There could be a greater connection for the Chinese students staying in Andover, however. With no on-campus housing at the high school, it will be up to Andover families to provide room and board to students coming to the United States, according to Lord.
But whether the students stay on campus or in the home of another family, they’re building relationships that student Saalik Lokhandwala said could last forever.
“Later in life, you’re able to go back to those people you met as a young adult or teenager,” he said.
That’s what Hugh said he has wanted to do since students from the school visited Andover earlier this year.
“Ever since, I’ve been emailing them, like pen-pals,” he said. “I really have started to look forward to seeing them.”