Summit High teacher and students tour China

Chinese language students practice their skills abroad

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

Kathie Quick stood outside of a music shop in Shanghai a week ago, wondering what was taking the teenagers so long.

The group of four boys had gone in to look at guitars, but they were taking longer than she expected.

Slightly concerned, Quick opened the door to the shop and stepped in.

She was shocked by what she heard and saw.

“Evan’s playing a guitar, another of the boys is playing a keyboard, and they’re all singing along in Chinese with this large group of Chinese boys,” said Quick. “It was so cool to open that door and hear the whole room singing like that. That’s one of my favorite stories of the trip.”

Quick, a Summit High School math teacher, recently chaperoned a group of four Summit students to China. The group, which consisted of Chinese language students Kevin Panton, 17, Devan Simpkins, 16, William Dalquist, 19, and Evan Young, 17, spent two weeks touring the country. The students visited Shanghai, Yangzhou and Xi’an, and got a chance to see such iconic places as The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the famed terra-cotta warriors in Xi’an.

But even though the students enjoyed the sites, the cultural landmarks took a backseat to what the students felt really mattered.

“The people were amazing,” said Dalquist, a recent Summit High graduate. “The tourist attractions felt kind of fake. But I learned that there are some really great people out in the world. You just have to be brave enough to go out there and find them.”

The year before last, Quick spent six months in China as an exchange teacher. After returning home to Bend, she began organizing a school trip, wanting her students to have the same opportunity to experience the culturally and historically rich country.

“I really wanted them to see the culture,” said Quick. “Learning the language is one thing, but actually seeing what it’s like there is something else. It’s the complete opposite of here.”

“I thought it would be nice to actually practice my Chinese,” said Devan, a junior. “I thought I could probably learn a lot there.”

Halfway through the planning process, the students found out that Summit High would not be offering Chinese language classes during the 2014-15 school year because the district will not have an exchange teacher. But that only added to their desire to visit the country.

“They kind of dumped our whole program,” Devan said.

After more than half a year of planning, the students departed on their adventure June 19.

During the trip, the teenagers got a chance to meet other students their age at a local school in Yangzhou. They discovered that Chinese schools are much different from American schools — with bigger classes and long, intensive hours that ran from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. almost every day of the week.

“I feel like they don’t have a lot of free will in their lives,” said Kevin, a senior. “They’re told what to do all the time, and I feel like a lot of the younger generation is getting fed up with that.”

Additionally, the students got to stay with host families for a few days. They also got a chance to see several of their former Chinese language teachers, who taught at Summit High as exchange teachers in past years.

“It was really cool because when we said goodbye to them, we thought we might not ever see them again,” said Dalquist. “It was cool that we actually did.”

The trip wasn’t without its frustrations, though. The students discovered that the phrases they were taught in class weren’t necessarily practical in real-life situations, as they weren’t buying shoes, renting apartments or throwing a party. Public restrooms weren’t all that clean. The air in most cities was heavily polluted. Even just walking down the street could be an adventure.

“Sometimes when you’re walking in a city, something just drips on you, and you never know what it is,” Dalquist said. “You live in constant fear of the drip.”

But despite those moments, the cultural experience was eye-opening for the students, and they have returned home with a new enthusiasm for the language and culture, and with a better understanding of themselves.

“I learned that sometimes you have to have self confidence and fend for yourself,” said Devan, who accidentally lost his video camera and cell phone when he left his backpack on a train. “Sometimes nobody’s there to catch you.”

The students will continue their language studies next year, though it won’t be in a classroom. They’ll have to take their Chinese classes through an online course.

The district plans to bring a Chinese exchange teacher to Summit for the 2015-16 school year, said the district’s communication director, Julianne Repman.

In the meantime, Quick said that because this trip was so successful, she plans to organize a similar one next year.

“I was a little worried at first because when I went there for the first time, it was a big shock,” Quick said. “I was worried they (the students) might have that too, so I was keeping an eye on them the whole time. But they just dove right into the experience — nothing slowed them down.”

—Reporter; 541-383-0354, .