A place for students to share their experiences in the China exchange program at the Westminster Schools

Our 2015 Summer Trip Diaries

2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 1 and Day 2

Friday-Saturday May 22-23, 2015


I arrived at the airport at around 6:45 A.M. The most significant emotions I felt were excitement and anxiety. I’ve never been outside of the country before. Actually, I’ve never gone longer than a few days without my parents before, so the fact that I was traveling to a foreign country without my parents was kind of ridiculous! Honestly, I was a little awkward around my peers at first when they all arrived because we didn’t really interact that much before even during the pre-trip meetings. After we settled in and went through security (which always stresses me out), I definitely loosened up and started to actually bond with the other students. I knew the flight was supposed to be long, but seventeen hours felt more like forty.

Connect in Chicago


My excitement died down a little during the beginning of the plane ride because the seats were uncomfortable, and I was exhausted. However, it was almost impossible for me to fully fall asleep since the space was so cramped and the boys behind us had so much energy… We finally landed in Beijing after what seemed like forever, and I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling. It was almost a little overwhelming. Everything was so busy. There were cars and people everywhere! It seemed like there weren’t any traffic rules because we came so close to hitting people (or it seemed like it). Markets were crowding the sidewalks. We ate dinner at this (Chinese) restaurant that served authentic Chinese food. It wasn’t supper greasy or mixed with Thai food.

Chimari 2

We traveled by bus, to this five star hotel with the most breathtaking pool I have ever seen! We were all in awe. Seriously, it must have cost a fortune to build it, and we never wanted to leave. Once we (hesitantly) left the pool, Zoe, Claire, and I headed upstairs to our impressive room and watched a horror movie while eating all of the snacks we brought with us. We eventually went to bed with hopes the next day would be as fun as it had been today!

Grand Hyatt


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 3

Sunday May 24, 2015


Today was our first day in China, we woke up at the Grand Hyatt Beijing.

Tian An Men

We then traveled to Tian An Men Square. We met a lot of friendly Chinese people who wanted to take photos with us. A lot of them have not seen a lot of American people before so they were eager to take pictures with us. We then visited the Forbidden City, which is a very big palace where the Chinese emperors used to live. We learned a lot of really cool information about the palace from our tour guide Candy, like the number of buildings and the purposes of them. After we were done looking around and taking pictures Sam lost his phone. It really stunk for him to lose his phone on the first day. Next, we went to this place where they served us different kinds of tea and told us about tea in Chinese culture. Then we went to Ho Hi to look at the shops. After that we went to the best Peking Duck restaurant in China as Candy claimed. It was a great dinner. After that we went to Beijing 101 to get set up in our dorms.

Jack Balloun

Our dorm is made up of four desks with shelves with beds on top of them. The beds are very small and very uncomfortable. The bathroom in the room has a squat toilet in the same stall as the shower which is very awkward the first time you visit the restroom. We had a good bit of time to kill so we ended up playing a soccer game in the stadium. After that we went back to our dorms and went to sleep so the next day would be enjoyable.


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 4

Monday May 25, 2015


Today was the group’s first full day at Beijing 101. After a not-so-western breakfast of dumplings and fried rice, we headed off for the first activity: the welcoming ceremony. After a quick introduction, one of the girls from Beijing 101 who went to America gave a short speech about her time there and how she hoped we would feel just as welcome as she felt. One interesting theme she focused on was freedom, and how Westminster students are given the privilege of having free periods and how we use them well (which made Mr. Watkins laugh). We then were able to meet up with our friends and catch up with each other.


Afterwards we were able to watch the flag ceremony, and some of the students were even able to participate with the grade ten students. The flag ceremony consisted of most of the students (grades 7-11 except for the 9th graders) lining up on the field and singing an anthem while they raised the flag. They were incredibly organized, and our group agreed that Westminster kids would never be able to be that in sync. After the ceremony we got a tour of the school, which was amazing because the campus is full of beautiful art and architecture.

Flag Ceremony

Later that day we toured the Beijing University campus, learning about the history and seeing some of the modern buildings such as the library. We were told that Beijing University is the equivalent to Harvard in America. The campus was wonderful, with “no name lake” in the center. It is surrounded by the huge trees and traditionally decorated buildings.



After a long day of walking, most of us barely ate dinner and went to sleep at &:00, tired but excited to see what the next few weeks will bring.

2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 5

Tuesday May 26, 2015


Today was definitely the best day yet on this trip! I also felt a whole lot more energized because I wasn’t as jet lagged as the day before. We attended two Beijing 101 classes, had an hour of free time, toured the summer palace, and some of us even played basketball after dinner! While we were in a Beijing 101 U.S. history class, Westminster students gave presentations about America as a melting pot and facts about Georgia. When we were split up into small groups with the Chinese students, we very surprised to see that the Beijing 101 students knew more American history than we did!



The next we went to was a Chinese class, and although we could basically not understand a word that the teacher was saying, it was interesting to see the student’s reactions to what the teacher said.
Before we went to the Summer Palace, I got a chance to hang out with some of my exchange friends that came to Westminster in February! It was really neat to experience how they got a chance to come to my school in the winter, and now I have the chance to see theirs.

Claire 2

The Summer Palace was absolutely magnificent, and probably one of my favorite field trips on this trip so far! The view from the top was incredible! While on our way down from the top, we stopped by a few people that were selling bracelets and such, and the guy next to them made beautiful paintings of people’s names, so many of us got to have our names painted in a creative way. We also stopped by an adorable, tiny village with a river running through the middle with stores on both sides. One of us even got dragged into a Chinese dress store ad was forced to try on a dress! For dinner, we all were extremely excited because we ate pizza at a restaurant inspired by Felini’s and created by a Westminster student! Overall, today was one of my favorite days on the trip, nd I look forward to the other fun activities planned!


Claire 1


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 6

Wednesday May 27, 2015


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We started off the day with a great Chinese breakfast – rice and eggs are a delicious staple in China’s schools. Afterwards, we got to tour the ancient ruins of the Old Summer Palace (yuan ming yuan), which is located around Beijing 101 High School. Beijing 101 High School is actually inside the Old Summer Palace. We walked out the back gate of the school, and there it was! The Old Summer Palace was inspired by European architecture in the 1700’s. It was given as a gift from an emperor to his son, and it was used during the Qing dynasty to handle government affairs. It was really cool to see a lot of old marble walls crumbled and destroyed at our feet. English and French soldiers burned down the palace in the Second Opium War, but many of the walls still stand. After the tour, we stopped for some ice-cream and headed back to Beijing 101 for lunch.

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After lunch, we went to a General English class to give our presentations. I gave my presentation on holidays with Truman. We talked about all of the holidays in the USA, and the Chinese kids seemed very interested. Later, we had some free time to play soccer and hangout with our Chinese friends. After the free, we had dinner, and went to a Chinese acrobatic performance. It was pretty cool. My favorite part was a bunch of guys climbing poles and doing tricks. Another fun part to watch was a man juggling. Right now I’m really tired back at the dorm. I’m going to go to bed now, but overall, today was a really fun time!



2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 7

Thursday May 28, 2015



Zoe 1

The excitement in today’s activities seemed to never stop as the day went on. After breakfast, we stayed in the cafeteria to learn how to make dumplings. Mr. Liu taught us how to make the filing, kneed the dough, shape the dough, and make the dumplings. He also taught us how to make traditional Chinese noodles. We later ate the delicious dumplings we made for dinner, but not the noodles because we weren’t good at making those.


After dumpling class, we went to an arts festival, which is basically a talent show in America. There were talents differentiating from opera to hip hop dance. Everyone who was a part of the show was amazing. My favorite act was a group of 9 girls who danced to American hip-hop music. Some teachers of Beijing 101 put on their family robes and bowed down to the students on stage. This is big for the students because it shows the respect the teachers have for their students.


Zoe 3

We then attended two classes with the Beijing 101 students, math class and Colloquy class. The students are learning calculus in math class right now, so the other 10th graders and I were very confused, but the teacher was really nice. Before today, I didn’t know what Colloquy class was, but now I know it’s a class specifically for discussing literature like theatrical plays, it was an interesting experience since The Westminster Schools doesn’t have this class. Once the classes ended, we had a lunch break. But we spent most of the lunch break playing soccer with some of the students. I’m not very good at soccer, but a lot of kids who came on the trip are. Although we didn’t win, it was a lot of fun. Then the most exciting part of our day came. We had a party with the grade 10 Beijing 101 students. The acapella group of the school and other students sang to welcome us. They sang beautifully. We all laughed, sang, danced, and played games as the night went on. It was truly an amazing day.





Zoe 2


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 8

Friday May 29, 2015


I woke up early in the morning only getting about 5 hours of sleep. I waited for everyone to get up and go to breakfast. We went to breakfast and we all ate dumplings and rice. We went back to our dorms and prepare to walk over to Mr. Watkins Space Physics Class. In his class we learned all about airplanes. We even got to make our own and have a completion with them.




Then we walked over to out second class of the day, which is Martial Arts. We mastered martial arts using our hands and using swords, after this we did stretching with the whole school out on the field. Then we walked to our third class of the day, which was PE. During PE we played a big soccer game, America vs. China. America won. After this we go to eat lunch. Then we went to our final class of the day, which was Chinese Calligraphy. We learned how to write many different Chinese characters. After this we went back to the dorm to pack up and get ready to go to our host families house. My host family picked me up from school and we went back to their house to spend the rest of the weekend with them.





2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 9

Saturday May 30, 2015


Saturday was awesome! I woke up this morning in a nice big bed with cool AC and the sun breaking through my curtains. I then proceeded to have a delicious breakfast of dumplings with my host family and tried this new Chinese fruit that tasted somewhat like an apple. We then immediately got ready and left for our big day out on the city! My host mom and dad dropped me, Daniel (my host student), and his sister off at the Beijing Zoo to explore for the rest of the day. Bryant (Daniel’s friend from 11th grade) bought our tickets for us an accompanied us on our journey through the massive Beijing Zoo. It has to be the biggest zoo in the world! We walked for at least 3 hours and still couldn’t see all the animals in the zoo! I found it funny that animals such as raccoons and foxes were on display for people to see since in America they are considered vermin.


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After the zoo, we took a taxi to go to a shopping center in Beijing. We first went to lunch at a Tai restaurant and the food consisted of pineapple shrimp, BBQ chicken, vegetables, and a full fried fish with a gooey and sweet red sauce on top. Daniel’s sister then had to leave for a tutoring session so me, Daniel, and Bryant explored the Adidas store and it’s insane variety of shoes and other clothing apparel (all of which were insanely overpriced). After hitting up the Nike shoe store next, we decided to take a break for some Starbucks (which is insanely popular in China) and they even had flavors such as a Green Tea Cappuccino! We went to this Japanese clothing store and I found a pair of shorts and pink sweater that I really liked so I bought both of those and then we headed to go check out the different car dealerships consisting of Lotus, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Lamborghini. We ended off the day eating Peking duck for dinner at a restaurant with my whole host family. Dinner was delicious and I tried various new foods such as duck claw, bamboo shoot, and sea cucumber. Needless to say, after such an event-some day, I fell right asleep upon our arrival back home that night.





2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 10

Sunday May 31, 2015



I woke up this Sunday morning feeling relaxed and well rested. I had finally adjusted to being in my host family’s house for the weekend. Mike Wang was my host student. I never once saw Mike frown over this weekend, he was always laughing and smiling and telling jokes. We spent the sunny afternoon walking around Beijing and taking in the culture; from bartering with street vendors in the street, to visiting temples that were hundreds of years old. Mike seemed to know everything there was to know about the history of china as we walked through the Confucius temple. He was practically a tour guide for the day, and a good one at that.


After spending hours walking all around Beijing, Mike and I took the subway home for a little rest. We were both exhausted by the time we got back, and just ended up plopping down on the sofa next to the A/C. We had to summon all of our energy to get back up to go hang out with Mike’s friends, Hurry and Harry. Hurry treated us all to a wonderful meal with nearly 20 different dishes. After feasting on every kind of Chinese food you can think of, we played some party games. One of which was just like Truth or Dare in America, but they called it Truth or Adventure. I had a lot of fun playing games with them like I was one of their close friends. They always made sure to make me feel very welcome! All in all it was a wonderful day full of adventure and many new cultural experiences for me.


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 11

Monday June 1, 2015


Today I woke up to get ready to leave my host’s house. My host, Hurry, was so friendly and provided for all my needs during my stay at his house. After packing all my stuff, Hurry and me drove back to Beijing 101, and I met back up with all of the Westminster students. After telling each other fun stories about our host families, we all boarded a bus to an elementary school. Today is Children’s day, so we got together with all the children from the elementary school  and played games with them to celebrate the holiday. We started off by watching a student-organized dance, which was very impressive. After that we played duck duck goose with the kids, and eventually broke out into other games such as jump rope, freeze tag, and other traditi onal Chinese games. We ended the session with an opening of gifts that all the children enjoyed.IMG_4162


After saying goodbye to all the kids, we ate lunch and took the subway to a shopping center. It was extremely crowded on some of the subways, and there were even people who had to push people into the vehicles. We finally arrived at the shopping center, but we were at one mall that only sold overpriced items, so we ended up not getting anything from there. However, we found a street that had lots of items that could be bargained for. One of the most popular items was a Beats headphone that most of our group bought.




We looked around the shops for awhile longer, then decided to head to a McDonalds to eat dinner. After a long day of shopping, the food tasted great. Our last event of the day was to go check out the bird’s nest at night. It was very different than viewing it at day, and there were lights that illuminated the entire stadium. Finally, we all took taxis back to Beijing 101 to wrap up our day.



2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 12

Tuesday June 2, 2015


As every day passes by I slowly realize how special Beijing 101 is, while also learning how privileged I am to attend The Westminster Schools. Today we spent the day in school, attending classes ranging from Physics to Chemistry. I met the Chinese counterpart of Mrs. Sconzo: Mr. Armand! It was a dream come true for me, as the past week has been filled with constant laughter after the phrase, “Hi, my name is Arman!”

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Since these classes were mostly in English, it gave us students a chance to exercise and exhibit our knowledge. Soon, it felt as if I was answering every question in Chemistry and Physics; so much so that after ten minutes, Mr. Armand had to say, “Arman is no longer to answer any more questions.”

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Going to these classes showed me how different the Westminster teaching style is from that of Beijing 101. With the exception of Armand; all of our teachers have spent their 50-minute class periods lecturing with a PowerPoint. While this method has proven to be effective with the Beijing 101 students—exhibited in their national ranking of 5th best high school in China—many Westminster students would find it very difficult to stay engaged in this style of teaching. In the end, I think most of the other exchange ambassadors would agree with me that it has been an amazing experience here at Beijing 101, and many don’t want to leave.


2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 13

Wednesday June 3, 2015


I first woke up around seven o’clock, similar to a normal school day at Westminster. We walked over to breakfast where we had dumplings and rice. After eating, we went back to the dorms to collect all our cash for a big day of shopping. We started off our shopping day in the South Drum Street. This Hutong district was an old neighborhood that had many little shops inside of it. We saw a lot of frozen yogurt shops, video game stores, and stores that sold Chinese clothes. After walking for about an hour, we stopped at Starbucks and grabbed some snacks. We then walked for another hour and returned to the bus. From there we went to a restaurant were we had some great Orange Chicken and duck. I also bought a real Chinese Rolex on the way out of the restaurant.IMG_0052

From here we went to the place everyone had been waiting for, the Silk Market, where the American Embassy used to be located nearby. The market is about six stories so we were given around three hours to explore the whole thing. The prices were ridiculously high so we were told to bargain hard for the prices we wanted. Some vendors were easier than others to bargain with but we ended up getting good deals. I bought soccer jerseys, Beats headphones, a Nike jacket, and some Ray Bans for a fraction of the cost of what they were in America. They were great quality too! After spending all our money and agitating all the vendors with our hard bargaining we returned to Beijing 101. We had a delicious western style dinner that consisted of French fries and hotdogs. After dinner we played a little soccer and settled back in our dorms for bed. In general today was a great day for polishing my bargaining skills :D.




2015 China Exchange Program Summer Trip Day 14

Thursday June 4, 2015

Mr. Watkins


Today was one of the highlights of our trip – a visit to the Great Wall. The day turned out to be rainy and a bit cool. But once we were on the Wall, we quickly forgot about the rain. The students were so excited, that I had to constantly remind them not to run on the slippery rocks. The rain and fog actually gave the wall a more mysterious feeling as sections of it dipped into and out of view. We voted to hike the more hilly and less traveled section, which turned out to be a great idea. The relative solitude, I think helped the students be a bit more reflective about the meaning of the Wall and its place in Chinese history. With their enthusiasm we hiked six towers of the wall in a relatively short period of time. We arrived at the furthest point we could go, sweating, wet and smiling. Our two guides, unable to keep our pace, were trialing long behind us.


I arrived in China knowing very little about the culture and people. I found its sense of history inspiring. It made me wonder about what lasting ideas and monuments Americans are leaving for the next generations.


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