St. Wendelin Director of Parish and School Brian Shaver has been traveling in China, representing St. Wendelin at student fairs in several cities, where students learn about education in America and the enrollment process.
Through the school’s contract with Canadian company 3W International, Inc., St. Wendelin hopes to attract up to 30 Chinese students in grades 7-12 over the next few years.
Following are messages sent to teachers and staff, as Brian experiences the culture of China and meets potential St. Wendelin students.
As requested by many of you, I will be giving a semi-daily update from China on what I am experiencing and what is going on. You will probably get about one every day or two for the next few weeks.
I arrived at the Columbus airport @ 5:30 am to fly to Newark NJ on my first leg to China. I met up with Dominic Helmstetter from Calvert who has become my traveling companion for the duration of the trip. Once arriving at New Jersey, I quickly got to my terminal on the connector flight to Beijing. While at the gate, I met up with another person from a Catholic School in Ocala, Florida, who was going to accompany us on the rest of the trip as well. We all boarded the non-stop 13.5 hour flight from Newark to Beijing. We took off about 12:30pm east coast time, which was already 1:30 am in China on Thursday.
My last sight of the US from the plane was the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty. As many of you asked which direction I would be traveling - I lied to all - we did not travel east or west per se, but instead traveled north. About halfway through the flight, I took some great pictures of the Arctic Circle and a few hours later got some shot of the tundra either in Russia or Mongolia. We arrived in Beijing China about 2:30 pm (1:30am in US).
Upon arriving, we had to go through immigration, retrieve our luggage and go through customs. Before we did this, we had to go through a quarantine zone that had many gizmos (infrared sensors, etc) that checked your temperature as you walked by.
Once we got through customs, we realized we went the wrong way and just then something bizarre happened. One of the baggage men came up to us and said we were going the wrong way for Guangzhou. Now, we do not know if he was our guardian angel, overheard us, or was told to watch us, but he turned us around and walked us back through the diplomat section of customs in reverse without question so we could get back in the airport. We then cleared another security screen to get to the terminal where we were getting on our final leg of the trip (by air) to Guangzhou.
We boarded this plan and took the almost three hour trip to Guangzhou. We got to this airport about 9:30 pm (8:30am US) and still had not slept. From there, our 3W representative met us. She escorted us on a public bus to the hotel which was 45 minutes away. We arrived at our hotel, The Dong Fang hotel (check out on google). It has a water feature and a large 24 karat gold mural on the wall and marble pillars. I finally arrived to my room about 11pm (10am US) after over 30 hours of non-stop travel and was able to sleep.
I will email again either later today or tomorrow with the story of our first full day in China - what we are doing, seeing, observing, etc.
Today was a wealth of information. We began the morning with a great - Chinese style - Western (kind of) breakfast bar which included boiled eggs, fried rice, egg rolls, smoked fish, bacon, and fresh fruit. I have discovered Dragon Fruit (which is rarely exported outside of this region of China) and fresh leche fruit.
After breakfast, we met the rest of the group of schools that are here to represent themselves with 3W for the Chinese exchange program. We then had a briefing on the expos, itineraries and our behavioral expectations and presentation guidelines, as well as what we could talk about and what we could not talk about.
After this we went to a local park which has a temple built to keep the ocean from rising several hundred years ago. It has since been converted into a historical museum with lots of great artifacts. After the park, we went to a neighborhood by the Catholic Cathedral and looked at the local vendors’ shops and I think I saw a woman packaging balloons that are certainly destined for a shipping container to the US or Europe.
The Cathedral finally opened at 2:30pm and we were told it would not be open very long. We went into the church and walked around inside. While it looked like a normal Catholic Church in most ways - it was lacking the presence of any religious leaders and general spirituality. I picked up some of the literature that was available in English and it was interesting to say the least.
After a short break, the group of us took cabs to the Pearl River district for dinner. The first stop was a marine life store. In the store they had fish of all kinds, water bugs, silkworm larvae, snakes, snails, muscles, clams, turtles, chickens, pigeons, little baby pigs, shrimp, lobster, crabs, eels, etc . . . then our guides said lets go up stairs. When we went upstairs we quickly found out that we were in a restaurant and we had just perused what we may order for our evening meal. I have to say, this is the freshest food I have ever eaten. Our guide went ahead and ordered several meals for us because many of us were reluctant to order for ourselves, knowing that we had just seen everything moving downstairs. Nonetheless, the food was served and we ate. It was very fresh and very good and we realized that presentation is a very important cultural element to most things Chinese, especially food. For appetizers, we had cooked radishes of some form, a fungus the government used to issue to coal miners and factory workers to help keep their lungs clear that has become a delicacy, sesame fried minnows on a bed of peanuts and chicken (or goose) feet. Then the main courses began to come out family style. The first thing to come out was a whole Australian lobster that was completely shelled for us and presented as the little guy was partly submerged under the plate. Then came the flounder - the whole flounder, from which we picked the meat right off the bone. Third came the Chicken - the whole chicken, which we too picked the meat off the bone. By this point, I had gotten pretty good at chopsticks. Then the following came out so fast I do not know which was next: Jelly Fish, two pigeons, smoked suckling pig, another pork dish, some preserved eggs (preserved by burying them for months) - this was the only thing that I did not try (just could not get past the yolk being black and gooey and the white being of a transparent onyx). We had many other vegetable dishes, a bowl of rice and lots of tea. The guide promised that we could go back when the whole group arrives tomorrow for some of the other delicacies like crocodile, turtle, snake, eel, water bugs and silkworm pupae. With the amount of protein and freshness of the food, it is no wonder the Chinese have the reputation for being healthy and fit. Us Westerners are too used to our carbohydrates in the form of bread.
After the meal, we took an evening boat cruise on the Pearl River. As I stated in the food piece, presentation is very important. I noticed that lighting, for decorative purposes, is very important. The boats, building, bridges and trees along the river were very ornately decorated with lights of different design, colors, etc. We saw the tallest building in the world until it was replaced by one recently in Dubai. I should correct that, we saw 2/3rds of the former tallest building in the world because the fog, smog, haze (whatever it may be) clouded the view of the entire top of the skyline.
We then had one of our many cab rides back to the hotel - the cab drivers do not milk the system for fares. Driving in China is no spectator sport. I have found out that the horn and flashing of headlights is a very effective non-verbal communication tool for drivers here.
With this message, I will go. Tomorrow we are off to the Buddhist temple and then to some student fairs/expos. make a mistake.
Sunday 7am - China
We are still in Guangzhou, China.
We started the morning with breakfast at the hotel, which is an event every time. The breakfast is a combination of many things that you would see at a Chinese buffet. as well as omelets made while you wait, pastries, waffles and French toast, bacon and several Western favorites. It is definitely the meal to get the carbs in because, outside of the occasional noodle and rice later in the day - there are not many bread based carbs.
After breakfast, some of us went to an ancient family shrine in Guangzhou which the temple turned into a folk art museum. It was fascinating. Not only did it explain the history of family, the shrine, the local history with great artifacts, but it also showcased some of the folk art. We saw ivory and jade carvings, very ornate and intricate. One piece of ivory we saw was smaller than a pill but, if you looked through a magnifying glass, it had more than 50 Chinese characters written on it. A room was filled with the most ornate embroidery I have ever seen. We saw the fan weaving process, several ornate lacquer pieces and an ink stone collection. We also watched (and videoed) a gentlemen painting with his hand (palm, side and fingernails), make very beautiful nature paintings.
After the museum, we went to the hotel and had lunch. I went to McDonalds (you have to experience it at least once in every country). They had an extensive menu, with more chicken and chicken sandwiches that burgers. Of course they had fries and drinks. I had a delicious double burger with lettuce, Canadian bacon and a sauce that was creamy, spiced mashed potatoes on a bun.
In the afternoon we went to our first student expo held by the EIC (Education to Increase the Chance) Guangzhou. They had us set up at tables. This was when I got to see our educational brochure for the first time and was the highlight of the day. There were 4 chairs at each table; 2 for the parents, 1 for me and 1 for the translator that worked for EIC that was assigned to me. This translator had been on our website and researched our school, had practically memorized our promotional materials and was nearly as knowledgeable about St. Wendelin as I was. She had been trained at one of the local universities in English and marketing. When the fair started, I had students and parents at my station non-stop for the entire four hours and even had two after the fair was officially over. I counted and spoke to over 30 potential students yesterday. If this rate continues, I will have spoken directly to over 400 families before the trip is over. The students ranged on the low end with very little speaking ability, to having intelligent conversations about education with students and their parents in fluent English. I had one young man whose hobby is building computers from scratch, soldering motherboards, etc and wanted to know what language our robots get programmed in. I had one student that wanted to know if we had tennis courts on campus, one student who wanted to know if she would have time to study her piano every day in her host family’s house, and one young girl who was the most well versed young lady who wanted to know the benefits of an American education and why she should come to St. Wendelin - and that she was planning on coming for her sophomore year (currently an 8th grade) so she can do better on her SLEP test. I assured her she would do just fine on the SLEP test, so she may be interested in coming in the fall.
Afterwards, we were put into a conference room for an impromptu think tank with the ED of the EIC. She explained to us that the Chinese study abroad demand. Her company is the leading company that funnels Chinese students to study abroad in English settings. 3W is a sub-contractor with them (as well as a couple other agencies). Her company was founded in 2000 with a staff of 5 and currently in 2012 the company has a staff f over 2000 employees. The industry has seen a 100% increase in students from 2011 to 2012. Last year, this company enrolled 350,000+ new students abroad in 2011. They would like to send double that (because of demand from China) in 2012. Further, they have projected a nearly 100% increase each year for the next 5 years. It is truly an amazing industry.
When the meeting concluded, we had yet another cab ride. I am convinced that the cars have force fields around them because we get within a fraction of an inch with cars on all sides as we drive, but very few cars have scratches or dents. The conclusion we have come up with is that any cars that contact one another are probably totaled. I think we are starting to learn the language of the horn and flashing headlights faster that we are learning Cantonese.
We had dinner at a Macau style (Cantonese/Hunan) family restaurant and had many "normal" Chinese dishes with nothing terribly exotic.
Today we are onto another fair in Shenzen with EIC. I will update in another day or two.
The last couple of days have been very busy. I will give you a rundown of the events before I trek off to another student fair in Shanghai.
On Sunday, we traveled to Shenzen, a very prominent and young city where we had a student fair at the Marco Polo Hotel. This is one of the wealthiest and fastest growing cities in China. While it looks like a futuristic and marvelous city, it also is eerily similar to Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" in regards to the organization and uniforms of the employees.
While at this student fair, I interviewed over 20 students - 3 of whom asked if I would accept them today and how to apply to be a St. Wendelin student. Several others seemed just as interested but were shopping around, looking at all their options. I began to struggle with this whole process because I began to want to take every student I interviewed and also would take any one of them into my home to live with our family because they all seemed so educated, pleasant and motivated. Many of them were excited that we were offering home stay experiences as opposed to a boarding home or dormitory setting.
We left this conference knowing there was a 2 hour bus ride, packing, and then a 6:30 am shuttle to the airport where we were taking a flight to Shanghai.
We left the next am for Shanghai. Chinese airlines do not waste time getting up to cruising altitude or descending. Nonetheless, we arrived in Shanghai and got to the Longemont Hotel (look up on Google). Our group thought the DongFang Hotel was opulent, but this one is even more so. The resources and opulence of the newer cities provide our group with much discussion about business, economics, etc. No expense was spared on many of the buildings and industries we have seen and the buildings I have been in (for the most part) are either more than 500 years old or less than 30 years old.
We toured the bund area of Shanghai and had a dinner cruise on a large boat to see the evening lights of the old commercial district of Shanghai and the new Pudong area of Shanghai.
This morning we left for a student fair hosted by a agency called JJL. We discovered immediately we were in a different part of China and the agency has much to do with the type of student and types of questions you get from them and their parents. I spoke with only a few families this morning.
The people of Shanghai are much more forward and direct than other regions of China. Often our group thought 2 people were arguing with one another and we found out that is a normal tone in Shanghai but not to be taken as argumentative. Shanghai is also a great mix of the old and new as well as fairly diverse with Thai and Japanese cuisine frequently on menus.
I found that out today when a cab cost us 55 Yuen (about $9.50) one way because the driver "accidentally passed" the place we were going and we had to tell him to turn around. On the way back to the hotel from this place it was only 24 Yuen ($4).
The place I went in the cab today was the Ford Corporate headquarters for all of Asia Pacific and Africa. I had a meeting there with Joe Hinrichs, the Group Vice President of Ford and the President of Ford Asia Pacific and Africa. More importantly, Joe is a 1985 Alumnus of St. Wendelin. We talked about his memories of St. Wendelin as well as his role with Ford. He gave me some insight to the studiousness of the Chinese student and offered kudos for all the hard work that St. Wendelin teachers and staff do for the kids (he had good memories of Sharyn Lininger). He also was impressed with our promotional materials and our ACT/SAT scores and the STEMM initiative, as well as the expansion into some global education with the exchange program. While he is biased, he told me how small the world is and the interactions we can have with all people in society and become more aware of our global surroundings, the significant impact it will have on all of us. He also has three children who are in Catholic schools because he emphasized the importance of the Catholic education he received as a child at St. Wendelin.
This evening, we are going to another student fair.
Tomorrow we are flying to Xi-An in the morning; we will do some sight-seeing and more student fairs. We will be there 2 days and then fly to Beijing for the rest of the trip.
I hope to write the first day in Beijing or sooner.
Keep up the good work and I miss being in and around St. Wendelin and Fostoria.
March 2 7:30am
(6:30 PM March 1, US eastern time)
The last couple of days since we have left Shanghai have been interesting. Lots of travel, very little sight seeing and a some educational fairs.
Wednesday AM we left Shanghai for Xi'an (the oldest city in the China - the start of it all). When we arrived at the airport, we unloaded our bus and our guide went to the check-in counter to find out that the driver had taken us to the wrong airport and we did not have time to go to the other airport - so - the guides bought 15 of us new tickets on a new flight. While I know it was stressful for our guides (also employees of 3W) for the mistake, our group was able to make light of it. In the end, we arrived in Xi'an about 20 minutes after we would have the other route.
We were picked up at the airport by bus and official guide of Xi'an (an official guide is a government employee - trained by the government and passed numerous rigorous tests about the history of a region). She was very knowledgeable about her trade and we learned much about the Xin, Tang and Han dynasties. Her main mission was to get us from the airport to the Terra-Cota warriors exhibit, about 1 hour from the airport. We went to the Terra Cota warriors exhibit (a childhood dream) and saw first hand the intricate, life sized, unique warriors that were place in a tomb (much like the Egyptian belief system) to protect the king in the afterlife. The place was enormous, with 3 pits all with excavated warriors of different regiments. A few things I found interesting at the museum grounds were: 1) The government built the buildings and infrastructure over top of some of the unexcavated vaults of warriors intentionally because (as the guide stated) they have unearthed enough and do not need to unearth more. 2) The farmer who made this discovery of the Terra Cota warriors was at the museum. He has been rewarded for his discovery and no longer has to farm - instead his new employment assignment has been to sit in the government souvenir stand and sign autographs of the book written about the warriors. We gained valuable insight into the disposition and theory of the government on this stretch of the trip (more on that later).
The drive to and from the warriors to the city of Xi'an was eye-opening. While we were in Guangzou, Shenzen and Shanghai (all major metropolises) we saw many cranes, and construction projects, this was exponentially compounded when we went to XI'an. There were new apartment complexes being erected side-by-side, clustered in several locations and next to them were factories being built or a factory was already in operation. The "fog", as our guide explained it, was terrible and heavy and very dirty. As I sit here and type this email, I feel as though I have the beginning stages of emphysema (now I know why so many locals wear dust masks) from all the "fog" being created in these cities. This area is also much more agrarian and the buildings are much less opulent and smaller than other cities - although they are catching up.
In the evening, we went to a 'dumpling banquet', at which we were served an array of local cuisine, family style, on a turntable. The food was amazing.
The next morning we went to a student fair. Each school saw about a half dozen students. I found the students still spoke decent English, but had a very thick accent that took some time getting used to. The students came to us one by one, would speak to us, ask questions and then go back to their parents and tell them what they found out. I was very impressed with one 15 year old girl who came to almost everyone of us to ask questions about the schools. I asked her where in the United States she wanted to be and why. She said California because she has a friend at a school there. She then said that she thought St. Wendelin is a great school and that ultimately the decision of school would rest in what she felt was the best place for here academically and socially. I was impressed with the level of thought and maturity that she placed in making her decision.
We left the student fair and traveled by bus to the airport and flew to Beijing. The growth is overwhelming and the opulence of the airports, shopping centers and hotels is awe inspiring.
While I am just over halfway complete with the trip, I have had an opportunity to see many things and witness a stage in Chinese history that will be reported on for centuries to come. I have gained some valuable insights into the people, culture, government and society as a whole and I become more excited with every interview about the positive impact this program will have on the St. Wendelin and the greater Fostoria communities, especially our students.
I will be staying at the Radegast Hotel in Beijing the rest of the trip.
We are taking the high-speed train to Tinajin today for a student fair and returning this evening. We have several student fairs over the weekend.
I will update you all again in a few days.
When you go to Mass this weekend, please say some prayers for me and my family. I miss not having the opportunity to go to church.
As I sit in my office to write this last update, the last 5 days have been a blur of activity, now coupled with the Jet Lag of 13 hours time difference (12:45pm here is 1:45am there).
After I last wrote, we boarded a “bullet train” to a nearby city to go to a student fair. The bullet train was a great experience. The train had a display in each car illustrating the KPH we were traveling. We made it to almost 300 Kilometers per hour – apparently not full speed because it was such a short trip. It was interesting to see the landscape of the rural parts of China from the train and have more of a “real experience.” I was also interesting to know how complex and vast the rail system in China is. Our group had many discussions about the ability of China, without a complex bureaucracy, to accomplish so much with infrastructure and development.
We arrived at the student fair and I spoke with about 25 students. We ate dinner at a local Chinese style fast food establishment and we then took cabs back to the train and took the train to Beijing.
March 4, we had two fairs to attend. The one in the morning was very busy and I saw an additional 25-30 students. We ate lunch and were headed to another fair when I was told that I had to stay at the previous fair and would be escorted to the new fair when I was finished. I was not sure what was going on, but I quickly found out that I had 4 interviews to do with students that had specifically chosen St. Wendelin. Two of the students had caught flights from other cities in China just to come and be interviewed for an opportunity to attend St. Wendelin.
The second fair of the day was geared mainly for colleges and universities and there were no fewer than 3,500 schools there, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc. Because it was a college fair, we were not as busy.
The rest of the trip we spent touring.
On the 5th we went to the Great Wall. It took us about 1.5 hours by bus to get to the Beijing portion of the Great Wall. Once at the parking lot, we had a hike to an elevator, then another small hike to the cable cars that took us up to the wall. The wall was remarkable. To think that this wall spans more than 5,000 miles and protected the border of China from Inner Mongolia and the Huns for centuries was amazing. We hiked along the wall a little ways and took in some of the views from the wall and the mountainous country side and hiked a bit of it. We had to be careful because there was snow on parts of the wall that proved to be a bit hazardous. On the way back down the wall we took the down route – which had wall to wall street vendors which seemed like an unending gauntlet of high pressure salespeople. I was grabbed, barricaded, pulled on and spoken to in very entrepreneurial English to buy everything that was being sold. This was almost like a scene out of a movie – I had to incorporate some of the spin moves I used to teach in basketball. If you stopped to haggle, it only compounded the intensity of the gauntlet as you continued to descend towards the parking lot. We returned to Beijing and went to the Pearl Exchange and learned about the pearl business and, of course, were given the opportunity to shop for pearls. That evening we had a very nice dinner (as all of them had been).
On the 6th, we went to the Forbidden City, the historic center of both the Ming and Chin dynasties. This is very rare to have two dynasties make the same city and property theirs, but Beijing apparently has the best Fung Shui in all of China. We toured the grounds and then were disappointed when we could not go to Tiananmen Square because the national congress was meeting (they only meet for 2 weeks per year), so the square was off limits to traffic. We also learned this day that Beijing is made of rings of the city and the Forbidden City, as well as many government and embassies, are in the 1st ring. The second ring is still considered part of the central city. In the first two rings, the building cannot be much more than 2 stories high for security purposes. The 3rd – 6th rings are much more developed and have the high-rise buildings. The buildings in the north part of the city are 2 times the cost of the building in the south side because of Fung Shui (location). After the Forbidden City, we went to the silk market and saw a silk making demonstration, and of course, had the opportunity to purchase silk. After this, we ate lunch at a Pizza Hut (that had a 60+page menu). After Pizza Hut we went to “the copy market,” also known as silk street where you can purchase almost anything marketed for the USA - from Dr. Dre’s ear phones, designer watches and hand bags, etc. that have all been “copied” or are knockoffs. It was an interesting mall to shop in. One of the interesting things about most of the shopping is that the price is negotiable in many places and a merely a starting point. That evening, we had our concluding dinner with the 3W staff and all of the teachers who were in China as gratification by the owners of 3W. We went to the best place in Beijing to eat duck. Beijing is famous for their duck preparation and expertise in the culinary world – most Americans recognize Beijing duck under it imperial name of Peking. We were graced with as much duck as we could eat and the duck delicacies that accompany it. Some of these delicacies included the heart, liver and feet as well as the duck head (mainly the brain). It was a great dining experience. We returned back to the hotel to pack.
On the 7th we checked our bags with the Hotel Consierge and went to sight see. Some of our group returned to the “copy market.” Myself, and two others decided to go to the Olympic gardens of Beijing were we saw the “Birds Nest” and the “water cube.” We were able to go into the water cube, which was a very interesting structure. We returned to the hotel, gathered our things, said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. This began a 30+ hour rat race of airports and flights.
I arrived home very early this morning and was glad to finally be home. The real work of this exchange will begin as we have students who will be applying to the school, finding host families, registering students for classes and completing the paperwork to see our Chinese students arrive in the fall. While this is my last email detailing this trip, it is only the beginning of the correspondence and discussion we will all need to have to prepare for the arrival of students in the fall. We will have some additional information via email, in the press, host family requests as well as trainings and forums on the implementation of this program. Please feel free to dialogue about this and ask any questions you want. It may even be healthy if you want to email me any questions you all may have and I answer them as a Q &A or as they arrive to all users. I also ask that if any parents or students have questions – please stay positive and direct them to me. I also want to make sure that everyone knows that this trip was completely funded by the Chinese Exchange and 3W – it cost the parish and school nothing, other than my time.
Finally, if any of you, want me to speak about this in your class with pictures, stories, etc – I would be happy to do so. I would be available (with photos, etc) after march 17th .
Director of Parish and School
323 N. Wood St
Fostoria , OH 44830