On the 18th of September 2015, a school partnership between the Nelson Mandela School and the Dongzhimen High School No. 2 in Beijing was formed. As a result, our 10 member student delegation visited Dongzhimen High School from April 8- April 19th 2016.

The student delegation had attended weekly Chinese lessons, and meetings to learn more about China’s rich history and culture in preparation. A bilateral cultural exchange in form of a five day symposium discussing the topic “Role of Education in preparation for our futures” took place over the course of the exchange spearheaded by Ms Swee Sekhon.

Our first meeting served as an ice-breaker as we discussed the stereotypes others have about our countries. We German students had prepared multiple short-films about stereotypes about Germany such as our love for beer and sausages, our cars and our soccer obsession. Next we spoke about the stereotypes people might have of China and in what way these conform to the truth. Some of the stereotypes, which the Chinese students pronounced as somewhat true were: like the color red and have a long history.

In the following days we spoke about the meaning of “success” and “education” in our daily life and how these impact us in our country. We learned that we shared somewhat similar ideas, that success should be dependent on happiness and contentment and not money and influence. Also we agreed that education is not something we necessarily receive at school but from family, travel, hobbies and so on. The results of these discussions were documented in form of posters and on the blackboard.

A group presents their results on the topic Success

During these discussions we also learned about the immense academic pressure the Chinese students are under. The competition is very tough. We also spoke about the importance of extracurricular activities at our schools and how these are essential to our education, as they teach us skills like discipline and teamwork. It was very heart-warming to see how much effort the Chinese students put into the presentations about the extracurricular activities at their school, overcoming their nervousness of speaking in a foreign language in front of an audience.

Chinese students present extra-curricular activities at their school

The good-bye meeting served as an evaluation session and each school performed different acts including traditional Chinese instruments, singing and dancing, which many of us German students had never heard before or seen before. Also we had a buffet of typical Chinese foods and the Chinese studentsgave us Chinese names and teaching us how to write the corresponding Chinese characters. Students from both schools gave good-bye speeches and reiterated the fact that we were quite similar and not as different from each other as we had originally thought.

The Donzhimen High school was very impressive. The building as well as the facilities and equipment was top-notch and very modern. The school has a robotics lab, a psychology centre, different kinds of art rooms, a large auditorium and every classroom had a whiteboard.

Apart from the symposium we visited numerous famous historic places in Beijing such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace, which were all incredibly beautiful and interesting. As we did not have real tour guides every one of us held a short presentation about the places we visited, to give the other students a general overview of the location.

We also toured a section of the Great Wall called “Muttianyu”, which is a less popular than other sections due to the more adventurous hike along it, involving very steep steps. At the end of our walk along the Wall we were able to take a summer-toboggan down the hill, which was extremely fun. Together with some of the Chinese students we visited the “Artzone 798”, which is a district devoted to art and originally a Chinese-East-German cooperation.

The German exchange students on the Great Wall

Other times we stayed at the school and took part in the daily school life. We experienced the unique eye, ear and head exercises the Chinese students do every day to increase concentration and even took part in the weekly flag-raising ceremony. The discipline that we witnessed during the ceremony surprised us and reminded us of the military.

German students take part in the flag-raising ceremony

Also we visited classes such as traditional Chinese art classes which included tea art, where we learned about the rituals surrounding the brewing of different types of tea, mask painting, where we were instructed how to paint masks and the meanings behind the different patterns and paper cutting, during which we learned how to cut the intricate shapes into the paper. We deeply enjoyed all of these classes and are grateful we were able to experience these traditional art forms.

However through our stay with the host families we were also given insight into daily life in Beijing, including family and school life. All our host families were extremely forthcoming and received us with such hospitality and we formed great connections with the host students. The families went to great lengths to introduce us to the typical Chinese foods, which we all thought were incredibly delicious.

Dinner with the Chinese students

One of our students also had the opportunity to experience a Chinese wedding, which was a great honor. The ceremony was very beautiful and quite different to a German wedding.

Overall we gathered a new understanding of the Chinese school system and lifestyle and the cultural differences and more importantly the similarities between us. We sincerely hope the exchange will advance in the years to come and allow more students to experience this amazing country. We hope to see our exchange students again soon, as they are planning on visiting us next year. Special thanks for the help of the Förderverein and the Mercator Stiftung for making the trip possible, the host families for their great hospitality and the dedication and hard work of Ms Sekhon and Mr Nitschke.

Participants: Claire Rüffer (11A), Antonina Federrath (11C), Antonia Liebenberg (11D), Freya Jungen (11C), Andrej Iwanaga (11C), Isaac Brown (11E) , Jaspar Glum (11C), Christopher Huggle (11A), Niel Casas (11E), Alexander Urban (11C) and Swee Sekhon

Article by: Freya Jungen

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