2018 Chinese Bridge Spring Camp at SCU –Victorian Young Leaders to China Program
On March 18th, 37 middle school students and teachers from four different middle schools in Australia’s southeastern state of Victoria came to Sichuan University for a two-week intensive overseas study and leadership development program. During this time, the students were not only exposed to Mandarin language classes, lectures on Chinese history and culture, and a range of traditional Chinese cultural experiences, but also got to visit the giant panda research base, Jinli Street – Chengdu’s ancient pedestrian shopping area – Leshan’s Giant Buddha, Mount Emei, the Sanxingdui Museum and other sites of historical interest, taking in the region’s natural beauty and rich history while also catching an inside glimpse of Sichuanese culture today.
Most of the Australian middle school students came to China with no Chinese language basis and thus began their Mandarin study at SCU from the very basics. This made for an interesting challenge, but both students and teachers rose to the occasion. The students showed an aptitude for picking up the shapes, sounds and meanings of Chinese characters quickly, while teachers employed a mixture of traditional and modern teaching methods in the classroom. By the end of the course, students were able to give short talks and use some simple every-day phrases in Chinese.
SCU also arranged for the middle school students to be given special lectures on Chinese culture, geography and philosophy so as to deepen their knowledge of local customs and hone their intercultural skills. In addition, Tai Chi, Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting classes instilled an authentic sense of Chinese traditional culture in the students. Throughout the program, participants were invited to examine the differences between Chinese and Australian culture to challenge their critical thinking and foster a more tolerant mindset. The Tai Chi class, in particular, proved an invaluable lesson in cross-cultural appreciation, as the instructor not only introduced the students to the ancient martial art of controlled attack and defense, but also outlined the principles and philosophy underlying the discipline.
On March 22nd, the group visited Chengdu’s well-known secondary school, Chengdu No. 7 High School, where they had the chance to listen in on some classes in session. The differences in teaching styles left an impression on the Australian visitors, who also had the chance to practice their Chinese writing using traditional-style ink and writing brushes. The highlight of the day was interacting and enjoying some friendly competition with Chinese students of their own age. Chengdu No. 7 High School, one of the country’s most prestigious, was visited by then First Lady of the United States in 2014, when Mrs. Obama also took Tai Chi lessons with a class of Chinese students.
Experiencing some of the great wonders of Chinese traditional culture and architecture, as well as the breathtaking beauty of several of Sichuan’s scenic highlights was certainly an eye-opening experience for students participating in this year’s Chinese Bridge Spring Camp. After waiting in line for two hours, the group caught a glimpse of the Giant Buddha in Leshan, which stands no less than 71 meters tall. Facing Mount Emei, the statue was carved out of a cliff face over a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty and stands as one of the great monuments to ancient religious architecture.
Reaching the “golden summit” of Mount Emei, a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site, was made more difficult by the snow and heavy fog towards the end of the climb, but was well rewarded with spectacular views and a spirited snowball fight once the group arrived at the massive statue of Samantabhadra at the top. One of the students had never touched snow before.
The Sichuanese cuisine was a special treat for this year’s group. Many students experienced a shock to their taste buds, sampling the rich and spicy flavors of hotpot and other Sichuanese dishes for the first time. Figuring out the use of chopsticks in record time, they sampled a variety of specialties that, tasty as they were, bore no resemblance to their favorite foods from home. In culinary terms, Chengdu proved itself singularly adventurous.
After two weeks of intensive language study, cultural exploration, and forging new friendships, the Victorian Young Leaders to China Program ended its tour of Chengdu with a closing ceremony, during which students gave speeches using their newly acquired Chinese and also impressed their teachers by singing a Chinese farewell ballad. Each program participant received a certificate of successful completion.
This year’s Chinese Bridge Spring Camp offered its young participants a fantastic experience of foreign travel and learning about another culture; much more than that, however, it is hoped that the experiences afforded to students on this trip will encourage a long-term engagement with China and thus a new generation of young leaders in Sino-Australian cultural relations. The Chinese Bridge Spring and Summer Camps are sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) and co-hosted by various educational institutions across China.