Over Spring Break, 35 seventh and eighth graders studied abroad in China for eight days and seven nights of cultural immersion. They trekked from Hong Kong, China (a Special Administrative Region) to Yangshuo (in Guang Xi Province) to Chengdu (in Si Chuang Province), and gained more than miles along their journey. In addition to learning about Chinese culture, history, geography and social environments, students returned to the United States with:
1. Increased open-mindedness.
Opening ourselves to others in turn makes us more open to ourselves. Spending time abroad helps students become more self-aware by exposing them to different perspectives. Travel keeps our minds “flexible” because it challenges our set ways of doing and seeing things. Brookwood students demonstrated their cognitive flexibility by actively participating in Chinese cultural traditions like visiting a Buddhist temple, and enjoying tea and appreciating a traditional Chinese performance in a local opera theater in Chinese robes.
2. Promoted empathy.
Studying abroad encourages students to move beyond their comfort zones, and to encounter new people and new situations in the real world. Therefore, it strengthens their ability to empathize with a broader range of people. Arriving at the airport in Hong Kong, students couldn’t read the signs and didn’t hear a familiar tongue, which was discomforting. But it also pushed them to embrace the discomfort and to rise above it. As a result, many students reported a feeling of returning home as global citizens.
3. Deepened understanding.
Travel helps make the unfamiliar familiar, challenging assumptions and stereotypes that often color our view of the world. Perhaps the biggest stereotype shattered in the minds of our students was that of Chinese cuisine! Many students were unaware of the variety of tastes and textures in Chinese fare that have never made it to popular Chinese-American restaurants. Students were not only able to try new food (like cow stomach!), they also had the opportunity to prepare a traditional dish and then enjoyed eating it communally.
When students connect and collaborate with peers and thought-leaders—starting in their own classrooms and expanding around the world—they broaden their perspectives, engage in cross-cultural communication, and embrace global connectedness.