Ambassador's trip to China!

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As a part of an ambassadorial program linking China to England, three high schools in the PELE Trust were offered an incredible opportunity for two students from Duchess Community High School, John Spence Community High School, and Ponteland High School, to visit the beautiful country of China. The students and teachers alike were set to build strong international relationships, with the hope that Chinese pupils might plan on coming to Newcastle either to study or visit. Each school would give a presentation about this wonderful region and why the North East is so special, encouraging future exchange. We (Charlie Stuart and Dominic Walters) were lucky enough to be chosen after a gruelling application process and visited China with Mrs Heath.


Our travel was focused within Hebei, which is one of the 23 provinces, spanning 187,000 square kilometres- bearing in mind the UK as a whole is 244,000! We travelled to 5 cities; Beijing, Shijiazhuang, Baoding, Cangzhou and Tianjin, using a variety of modes of transport including bright pink taxis, shuttle buses and the famous bullet train. The furthest of these journeys being roughly 300 km from Beijing to Shijiazhuang- equivalent to driving from Newcastle to Birmingham. Each city was overwhelmingly large, with high rise buildings in place of our typical real estate properties.  


Whilst in each respective city, we visited schools ranging from Grades 3 to 12 which in England is similar to Primary through to Secondary School. Typically the smallest schools we visited had a minimum of 2000 students, and around 2-3 teachers to every class of 50 students - the largest being almost 4 times that size. Many of the schools put on impressive displays of talent through traditional dancing, Chinese opera and my personal favourite playing beautiful music on Chinese instruments such as the Erhu (I would highly recommend listening to this!) We also engaged in a plethora of cultural activities taught by teachers and students which included dumpling making, soap making, chopstick carving, Chinese calligraphy, paper cuttings and wax seal carvings, during which we conversed with Chinese students who were eager to learn everything about England and what we enjoyed about China. We were very impressed by the quality of the English displayed by the students, and each child we spoke to was excited we were visiting and thoroughly proud of their school and how much they loved it. Everyone, including the students, were incredibly kind, generous, warm and genuinely interested in learning from us. The reception from each school made us feel so welcome, often with gifts offered as a token of their appreciation of us visiting their wonderful schools. 


Aside from our job as ambassadors we were fortunate enough to have the chance to be tourists in one of the most culture-rich, historically and visually powerful countries in the world. To begin the list, we visited the Forbidden City, dating back to the 1400s and home to many emperors and dynasties until the early 1900s. This was the place where the emperors lived with all of their concubines (mistresses) and eunuchs (servants). It was at this point that we realised how hierarchical and respectful Chinese culture was.Furthermore,  we visited many stunning and captivating museums such as Hebei Museum in Shijiazhuang, Cangzhou River Museum and the Great Wall Museum in Tianjin-set to open in 2030. The most impressive sight of the trip (and one of the reasons it is a wonder of the world) was without a doubt the Great Wall of China, where the wall meets the sea in Tianjin and begins its ascent of the mountains. 


Now it is very likely you are thinking of what the food was like which is why we have dedicated an entire section of this article on the colourful Chinese cuisine. And before you ask, it was nothing like a takeaway you can get from the local shop. Each meal was different from the last, as each restaurant/ venue varied food and format. One meal was a top level viewpoint in which you could see out all over Beijing. It was also during this meal that the floor moved around the food like a sushi conveyor belt, but we were moving as the sushi would. Another of our meals we were tasked with cooking our food ourselves- a blessing and a curse- on a grill in the middle of the table. The majority of dinners were very formal and were seated in circular fashion around a Lazy Susan. Now, I could list all of the wonderful Chinese foods we ate whilst we visited but everyone knows about dumplings and noodles and the likes, so we are going to introduce you to the unusual and unconventional foods. This includes cooked duck head, starfish eggs, starfish, octopus head and the infamous chicken feet. Although they sound repulsively awful, we are now firm believers in “you can’t knock it until you try it” because some of the foods were pleasantly surprising. Weirdly enough, we are excited to return to China to try some more delicious (and not so) foods.  For our final meal we had the experience of making the dumplings ourselves.



To summarise, the ambassador's trip to China was ultimately an incredible success. Going into this trip we didn't really know what to expect or what to think other than, "Am I dreaming?" To be able to visit such impeccable schools, in both size and stature, was a privilege and we are  truly grateful to all involved in making this trip of a lifetime a reality. On our final morning as we rose with the sun to begin our journey back to Beijing to get back on the flight home, we enjoyed  some spectacular final views of China as we passed through foothills and open plains as the sun rose over the top. It was a great way to finish off the trip before the long flight home. Arriving back at Newcastle we were all very relieved to be home but also amazed with the fabulous experiences we had while in China. It is most definitely on our return list to experience fully as a tourist next time. It was amazing to experience such vibrant cultural activities within the visits to each school. Most of all, it was an absolute pleasure to be given the opportunity to speak to some fantastic children and to attempt to grasp what life is like across the other side of the world, 5000 miles away. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were eager to know what we thought of their home, and what life was like back in England. We were incredibly impressed by the quality of the students' outstanding English- which completely put our  lack of Mandarin to shame! To briefly sum up this trip, any further ambassadors who may go on such a trip in the future, have a brilliant opportunity to meet some wonderful people and do some amazing things whilst in China, and we  can only hope they are fortunate enough to have an amazing time as we did. It was an honour and a pleasure to represent Ponteland High School.






Ponteland High School