It was the last day and the trip had come to it’s conclusion. It was time for the students to check out of the hotel and say goodbye to China. As they flew back the students reflected on their amazing journey. It was hard to believe for the students that so much had happened in such a short amount of time.
Their visits to three distinct cities that had such a variety of history, culture, and chances to learn about China was slowly being processed through remembering moments together like walking the Burnd of Shanghai, or praying to the Buddha statue in Wuxi, or even the painstaking, but rewarding climb of the Great Wall. After another 13 hour flight, SOS finally arrived back home in San Antonio where they were met by their families.
The group of 27 student ambassadors had experienced many things most people will never experience in their entire lifetime. The trip they took that summer would make great lasting impacts on the students. They will become more global, respectful, and open minded citizens that will have a positive impact for our entire community.
On the eighth day of their trip, the students finally got to visit the world famous Great Wall of China! The Great Wall was built in the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese states and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe. It is also considered one of the 7 wonders of the world! At the wall, students faced the challenge of climbing the steep, narrow, and uneven stairs while looking over the cliffs of the Chinese mountains. The president of China claims that you can only be a hero after climbing the Great Wall and now our students know why.
After the Great Wall, SOS stopped at the famous National Stadium, the Bird’s Nest, for photo opportunities. The stadium was designed for use throughout the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics. The incredible ingenuity fascinated our students and allowed them to see construction using the newest technology in order to provide a facility capable of hosting such an honorable competition. After visiting these sites, the group made their way to a local restaurant for their last dinner in China. The students enjoyed a delicious farewell peking duck dinner, while everyone shared their experiences of the trip.
Day 6 was finally the day for SOS’s community outreach program. SOS visited one of the handicapped schools in Wuxi in order to lift the kid’s spirits. The student ambassadors did this with american songs, dance, and friendship. Service can sometimes be as easy as making someone smile, and for our SOS community, we were committed to making sure the students at the Wuxi Disabled Center had a day filled with joy. However, the students also presented a dance and song to our SOSers to show their gratitude for offering their time.
After this life changing experience, it was time for SOS to say goodbye to Wuxi. The student ambassadors traveled to the airport, bordered the plane, had dinner, and soon enough were back in Beijing. The group bussed to the hotel, located in the city center to prepare for their day of exploration in the capital.
After a great first day at the Golden Bridge Middle School, the SOS student ambassadors were eager to return to the school to learn more about their new friends. The students began their day attending a class in Chinese culture.This was a chance for our students to inquire and learn in depth the enriching traditions found in China. This was an opportunity for our students to appreciate how different cultures can have people come together in celebration and good fortune. After the class, the students learned how to write their names in Chinese, and how to make the famous clay doll.
The detailing of each doll was done with a fine paintbrush making every stroke a work of art. Next, the SOS student ambassadors presented to the Chinese students on American culture by using music, dancing, and American slang. After this presentation, it was time for the students to say goodbye to their new friends at the Golden Bridge Middle School. However, each student exchanged their information in order to solidify the friendship that had begun. After the goodbyes, SOS visited Wuxi’s city planning department to learn about the city’s economy, and future growth plans.
This visit to such an establishment while being led by the city’s director, was an honor for our students who had the opportunity to ask questions on how Wuxi was becoming a leading industrial city while focusing on preserving the environment to set the example for other cities. As the day came to an end, it was time to pack up and prepare for their departure to Beijing.
Fresh with knowledge from their tour of Wuxi, the student ambassadors were ready to meet the students at the Golden Bridge Middle School, and share different aspects of each other's culture. The Golden Bridge Middle School is one of the top bi-lingual schools in Wuxi and many of their students get accepted to top universities worldwide.
When they arrived at the school, SOS was warmly welcomed by the Golden Bridge’s principal and students to receive a personal tour of their campus, then given a tour of the school. The playgrounds had basketball courts, soccer fields, and the classrooms implemented technology much like America. Following the tour, the ambassadors had a chance to hear from each Chinese student a personal introduction and warm welcome. First they had lunch and began to get to know one another. Quickly, the students realized how much they had in common and before long, a pick-up soccer game and basketball game would continue building the community between the students.
After lunch, the exchange program officially began. Students from both SOS and Wuxi gave a presentation on their city, country, and culture. The Wuxi students introduced traditional meals, celebrations, and historical background to their city with pride and was followed by our students highlighting San Antonio’s Riverwalk, diversity, and of course, The Spurs.
The day had finally arrived when the student ambassadors, and SOS staff would tour their sister city, Wuxi. SOS began their exploration with a trip to the famous Lingshan Grand Buddha. The Lingshan Grand Buddha is the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue with an amazing height of 88 meters! The Buddha is located in the Taihu Lake National Tourist Resort along with many other Buddhist sites including the Brahma Palace, Five Mudra Mandala, Nine Dragons Bathing Sakyamuni, and Xiangfu Temple.
Students were taught how Buddhists pray and worship at the temple. They were also treated to a short performance on the life of the Buddha. The experience really helped give SOSers a new perspective on the Buddhist faith.
Before the student ambassadors continued their journey to their sister city Wuxi, they had a chance to further explore Shanghai. A half day tour included learning about Chinese culture and traditional art, visiting the Yu Garden, and a silk weaving workshop. Built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty, the Yu Garden is an extensive Chinese garden located beside the City God Temple. There, SOSers experienced the tranquility and beauty of an original Shanghai landmark. SOS then bussed over to the silk weaving workshop.
Student Ambassadors were able to touch and feel the silk for themselves and witness the process of how it’s made. After the tour, the students had a great chance to practice their Chinese by ordering lunch. They used their Chinese language cards, as well as what they had learned in Ms.Whitney's class to order various types of dumplings, sticky buns, and pork dishes. After the delicious lunch, the SOS student ambassadors boarded a high speed train to Wuxi. When the students arrived, they were welcomed by government officials from the city of Wuxi, and invited to a traditional Wuxi dinner.
As the long day of exploration and travel finally came to an end, it was time for the students to rest before they would get to see more of their sister city.
After over 8 months of preparation, including attending Chinese language and culture classes, and getting to know their fellow travelers, the group of 27 ambassadors finally embarked on their trip to China. The students said goodbye to their families, checked in their baggage, and by 1:00 am, were off the ground. After a 13 hour flight, the group had finally touched down in China! Upon arrival at the Beijing airport, SOS connected for their flight to Shanghai.
When they arrived in Shanghai, SOS met their tour manager, Polly, who took them to lunch at a local restaurant. At the restaurant students were able to have their first taste of the local Chinese cuisine. They ate a variety of foods served in the traditional “family style” arrangement on a lazy Susan. After the great meal, the student ambassadors were taken to the city to learn about the history of Shanghai and experience the contrast of Old and New China. The ambassadors got to see the Shanghai Tower, which is the second tallest building in the world,the Oriental pearl tower, and many other famous landmarks. They also saw the old colonial historic district. After exploring Shanghai, the students ate dinner, checked into their hotel, and got ready for their trip to Wuxi!
The student ambassadors started their day off with a special lesson on Imperial China by visiting Tiananmen square, and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square is a large city square in the centre of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen ("Gate of Heavenly Peace") located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The square contains the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China in the square on October 1, 1949 and it is also where the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912. It served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years!
Each sacred attraction offered a moment for our students to reflect on the significance the places brought. For Tiananmen Square, our students stepped back in time and got to learn all the history the area has created for China and the world. When it was time to walk through the Forbidden City, our students got to feel what it would of been like for an emperor of China and see the extent of their wealth through the elaborate rooms and works of art found there.
After learning about imperial China, SOSers took a break for lunch, then traveled to old Beijing, Hutong by rickshaw is a local method of travel where you are escorted on a bike by a guide who explains the history of each street and alley while you traveled on it. Each building had a story and when given the opportunity to hear it, the city becomes alive. Following the tour of old Beijing, students had a chance to visit a local family who have lived in China for generations.
The students were served a traditional meal and given the families history as glass bottle painters with a rare chance to see an artist designing elaborate pictures inside small glass bottles. This unique experience was followed up with dinner and an acrobatics show. Much like Cirque De Soil, the acrobatics show allowed our students to be entertained by highly skilled performers that mixed music and performances together for a splendid show.
Beginning Chinese — Lesson 2: Taking on a Chinese Identity and Expertise on Designing a Modern China
In the first half of the class:
Ms. Whitney researched each of our ambassador's first names to find the Chinese equivalent. However, it is not a simple translation of the English letters that make up our name to the corresponding Chinese characters that an online translator could provide. Instead, Chinese names represent a trait, a metaphysical quality, that goes beyond just giving you an identity for others to address you as. Names symbolize qualities like trust, strength, and wisdom. Each of our ambassadors were given a unique name that correlates to the traits he or she possesses that help our program be a community of talented students, each bringing something special. By embracing our new identities for the summer program, the interactions between Wuxi students and SOS ambassadors will enrich the once in a lifetime opportunity this travel experience will bring, and open new perspectives to how we all live our lives here on planet Earth.
In the second half of the class:
Our students heard a presentation delivered by two guest speakers that explained, through first-hand knowledge, the designing of a modern China that maintains traditional heritage, because they are helping build it. Global architects, Mr. James Andrews, and Ms. Yanjing Chen, representing the company, Overland Partners, gave insight to our ambassadors how China is remodeling their infrastructure and foundation by bringing their country to the twenty-first century in design. Mr. Andrews shared his story and personal interest in helping China rebuild their cities through photos and fascinating narrative. As one of the few western architects privileged enough to participate with multiple teams of Chinese leaders tasked with designing entire city blueprints, Mr. Andrews and his assistant provided a unique perspective on the globalization taking place right now between countries.
The ambassadors got to hear about amazing projects Mr. Andrews and Ms. Chen have been apart of, but the take away message Overland Partners wanted to share with SOS is the importance of friendship and trust among the Chinese. Mr. Andrews gives credit for the partnership his company and China share to the personal connections he has made over the years.
With the aid of Ms. Whitney's Chinese culture classes, and Mr. Andrew's message to our ambassadors to travel their with open-minds and embrace the new friendships SOS will make, our China program is well underway to help change lives for all those participating and continue to have our community grow beyond just San Antonio.
If you are interested in Overland Partners, or would like to learn more information about the architect, Mr. James Andrews, please visit their website at,