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Baltimore students wowed by Xiamen

Updated: Jul 19, 2019 By Dong Leshuo in Washington China Daily Global Print
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Students from Baltimore, Maryland who attended this year's Youth Ambassador Program visit Xiamen International Conference Center on June 27 in Xiamen. PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY.

For 16 high school students from Baltimore, a trip to Xiamen and Beijing this summer was an eye-opener.

The students, accompanied by three chaperones, visited the two cities from June 24 to July 4.

For many, it was their first time to China.

One of those was Madison Hall, an 11th grader at Bard High School Early College, who has been studying Chinese for four years.

"I was immediately and pleasantly surprised at how welcoming all the students were," Hall said. "They were a lot of fun to work with, and they had such excellent English skills. Xiamen was so pretty to visit. Every place we visited had trees and flowers, it was all so calming, even though the actual city was quite bustling with all the traffic."

The group went to Xiamen Shuangshi High school to get a taste of the Chinese secondary school system.

Jahnae Drummond, another 11th grader from Bard High, took a Chinese culture class before the trip and said the trip taught her more than she learned in class.

"Working with the Chinese students and being able to meet some of them was my favorite part of being in China. Being able to communicate with them and understand that we're not so different was a huge part of what made the trip so amazing," said Drummond.

Drummond said she made many Chinese friends during the trip. "I've made one friend that I've talked to every day since I left China," she said. "I chat with her through WeChat, and we get to exchange what is different here in America and there in China. I hope to see my friends again someday, either in China or here in Baltimore."

They also visited Xiamen University and Peking University.

Camille Lee, a 10th grader from East Technical High School who has been learning Chinese for six years, said she was very interested in visiting Xiamen University.

"I want to be a marine biologist when I graduate college, and I read that Xiamen University had a program that might be good for me in that area. I was also very excited when we visited Peking University because I was able to get another school's perspective."

The trip was sponsored by the Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City Committee (BXSCC) Youth Ambassadors Program, which facilitates cultural and educational exchanges between the two cities.

"The program has only been going for two years," said Danny Evans, vice-chairman of BXSCC and project manager of the program.

His thoughts on the program were to bring Baltimore high school students and adult mentors to Xiamen, so the two cities could promote mutual understanding, increase leadership skills and prepare the youths to make a difference in the international community.

"The experience will serve as a gateway for BXSCC to provide further opportunities for Baltimore/Maryland students to learn more about China and its language and culture through firsthand experiences outside of the classroom," said Evans.

With China's fast economic growth and emerging significant global role, sister-cities ties with Xiamen have become a key part of Baltimore's international strategy.

Since an economic and cultural delegation lead by Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer traveled to Xiamen in November 1985, the two cities have had a sister-cities partnership, yielding several successful collaborations.

Xin (Cindy) Wang, chair of BXSCC, said, "We have at least a dozen projects and programs, which are related to business and trade, youth and education and other areas, per year. We are regularly talking with contacts in several Chinese cities about collaborative opportunities, although our focus is primarily on opportunities with Xiamen."

Evans hoped Baltimore and Xiamen educational exchanges could serve as a role model for other cities around the world to engage in educational partnerships with cities in China.

Some of the students who participated in the program had the same thoughts.

"Baltimore and Xiamen's friendship is an excellent example for other cities in the US," said Hall. "Even when national ties are shaky, local connections can be the key to keeping things stable. If more cities in the US had relationships with cities in China, I think it would mean that country relations with China would slowly get better as well."

Wang thinks that countries have big geostrategic issues to consider, but cities are the front lines for providing adequate affordable housing, healthy and plentiful food options, clean water, living-wage jobs, a good public education system and a modern infrastructure of roads and bridges.

"We hope that the openness and flexibility provided by frank dialogue and steady exchange programs will continue undiminished, and overcome any setbacks presented by national-level disagreements," said Wang.

"Collaborative programs with the aim of furthering mutual understanding and accentuating shared values can benefit citizens of both countries. I trust that people-to-people exchanges such as those through sister cities will continue to help with positive relations between the citizens of the US and China."

On Wednesday, the 2019 Sister Cities International Annual Conference will kick off in Houston.

"I believe the sister-city partnership between the US and China will develop better and better, and the relationship between people in the US and China will grow stronger. We are finding new ways to cooperate," said Carol Robertson-Lopez, vice-chairman of Sister Cities International and chair of the US-China Mayors' Summit.

"For the upcoming event next Wednesday, we will provide more opportunities to Chinese businesspeople and government officials. The opportunities are from Houston and Texas officials from business, including house care and research and energy related industries," she said.

Zhang Jing in Washington contributed to this story.

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