In June 2019, the University of Kentucky’s Confucius Institute (UKIC) traveled to China with KY educators from Henderson, Kenton and Russell county K-12 schools and for the very first-time integrated students from UK’s Martin Luther King Center. The Educators’ Trip to China offers a unique and personal view into the Chinese education system and culture. This trip gives students and educators from Kentucky the opportunity to create a meaningful connection with Chinese culture while also learning from the Chinese education system to improve their schools back at home. Participants of this program visit schools at various levels and distinction in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Hangzhou, as well as informational tours to cultural and historical sites including: Terra Cotta Soldiers, Great Wall of China, Forbidden City and provincial museums.
Integrating the MLK students into this trip to China gave these students the opportunity to develop their cultural identity and learn how they could integrate both, the U.S. and Chinese educational systems. Educators were also able receive insightful feedback from these students on what personally helped them during their educational experience back in Lexington.
While visiting these schools, KY educators and students discussed the differences and similarities between their curriculum, struggles, successes and the areas they hope to improve. This past summer, Chinese educators discussed how they promote their bilingual environment, their increased focus on the importance of student engagement and their emphasis on pairing humanities classes with core subjects like music and art courses, as it makes their students more well-rounded.
Chad Thompson, Principal at Henderson County High School was excited to learn about all the similar experiences they share as educators, their differences and what each system could do to improve. “The opportunity for the Henderson Delegation to experience the Chinese culture and education system from such an expert perspective was an eye-opening experience,” Thompson said. “We recognized that regardless of your nationality we all have the same hopes and dreams. Chinese parents and teachers are no different than Henderson County parents and teachers, we want our children to be successful in their careers and happy in their future.”
One aspect constantly emphasized during the trip was the strong focus of learning English in Chinese schools from an early age. Seeing how important and effective taking a foreign language was in Chinese education made KY educators want to enforce the same requirement back at their schools.
Recent UK graduate and MLK student, Taylour Butler, expressed how studying abroad in China did not only help her gain knowledge of the Chinese culture, but it allowed her to connect with the culture on a personal level. “I wanted to learn the language and immerse myself in the country and culture in order to grow as an individual from this experience,” Butler said. “By the end of our trip, my little corner of Beijing felt much more like home.”
This trip is the perfect opportunity for KY educators and students to deepen their views about Chinese culture and history, not only by visiting historical places, but by also learning about the rich culture and meaningful traditions Chinese educators reinforce in their educational system. It also allows U.S. educators and students to work together and discuss better ways in which they could influence students in future generations.