We Are Much More Alike Than Different
In July, I was fortunate to participate in the most significant experience of my professional life. I was one of nine educators who served as the delegation for AASA’s 2017 Discover China Program (“AASA’s 2017 Discover China Program to Get Underway”). Over the course of ten days, we visited ten schools, explored exotic sites in three major cities, savored unfamiliar food and, most importantly, met incredible colleagues and friends in China.
Our itinerary was vigorous (Discover China 2017 Summer Program Itinerary). From the moment we landed in Beijing on July 9 until the moment we left Nanjing on July 19, we were involved in educational or cultural experiences every minute of every day. Each day consisted of visiting at least one or, more often than not, two schools within the tiered system of Chinese education. Some of the schools concentrated on academics; others focused on STEM; and still others targeted the arts. We went to primary as well as secondary schools and, at each visit, we interacted with students and participated in some of the instructional activities. At every school, we met with multiple administrators and, through interpreters, all members of the AASA delegation shared information about their schools and discussed common issues of education in the United States.
I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm that our Chinese colleagues had for improving education and saw their passion translate so seamlessly into high expectations and effective classroom instruction. One of our most thrilling days included meeting with the Ministry of Education. Distance and differences faded and we all became a group of committed educators seeking to advance educational opportunities for our students further. Ministry officials articulated their goals of modernizing education through technology, innovation, and STEM, increasing equity for social progress, and fostering greater harmony in both education and society. As I did at all of our school visits, I marveled at how much more we are alike than different and the impact that can be realized by shared goals and mutual efforts.
In the late afternoons or weekends, we were treated to the cultural richness of China. We walked through Tiananmen Square with awe, were dazzled by the richness of the Forbidden City, climbed sections of the Great Wall, and experienced the wonders of Beijing, which is a city of 22 million people.
We traveled the high-speed rail line between Beijing and Shanghai at 217 mph and were mesmerized by the modern architecture of Shanghai with its gleaming towers, glistening glass, and spectacular lights. Our final destination was Nanjing, the third largest city in China, where we drove through beautiful Jianhu County and, after our campus visits, saw the most amazing lotus farm imaginable!
The AASA 2017 Discover China Program is sponsored by Triway International Group and AASA and is devoted to building professional networks between U.S. school leaders and Chinese school officials. We formed sister-school partnerships while there, and I am proud to announce that the Morris-Union Jointure Commission's (MUJC) sister-school is the Jinhu Wa Primary School of Art in Nanjing. Through interpreters, the MUJC and the Jinhu Wa Primary School of Art are emailing ideas about how our respective schools can introduce our students to each other through technology. While special education is not a typical component of any of the schools we visited, Chinese school officials are intently interested in its possibilities to promote a more equitable society and the MUJC is exploring a possible professional development exchange program in China through a partnership with AASA and Triway International Group.
I encourage school leaders to consider joining AASA’s Discover China Program in 2018. It will change your life! You will meet school leaders from across the United States who will become your friends and family and you will experience a culture that is like none other. The hospitality that we were shown by our host schools was simply indescribable and completely humbling. As I reflect back on my experience, my resounding final thought is the same as my initial thought on our first day in China. We are much more alike than different.
For additional information on AASA’s 2018 Discover China Program, please contact Tara Gao, AASA business/cultural exchange specialist, at email@example.com.