Sister Regina Ryan and a group of six staff members from New Oasis partner schools recently returned from China. Here is how Sister Regina Ryan, from Villa Maria Academy, recaps the trip:
Reflection of China Trip
Admittedly, China was never on my bucket list. Before September 17, 2015 my impression of China was that of a large dismal landmass– gray always seemed to be the descriptive color in my head when I imagined this vast Communist nation.
I add the adjective “communist” because that ideology and system contributed to the reason that visiting there held no interest for me. How misinformed I was, and how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to change the lens through which I viewed this fascinating country and its rich culture! Below are some random thoughts accumulated over the four weeks since my return.
After a 14-hour flight, which was actually quite pleasant, we arrived in Beijing at 2:30 p.m. China time, on September 17, 2015, but 2:30 a.m. to our American bodies. Once through Chinese Immigration and Customs (attended by friendly agents), our group of seven was met by Daniel and Lily from the New Oasis team in China and so began my first connection with real Chinese people in China.
We wasted no time getting situated in our hotel and then headed out for a real Chinese dinner of no fewer than 15 dishes (ever), chosen thankfully by Daniel. This introduction to Chinese cuisine was the beginning of an amazing variety of dishes and flavors that never failed to surprise the palate throughout the five different cities that we visited. The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we began our trip to the Great Wall on a hot but beautiful and clear Friday. Riding through the city of Beijing we were so impressed by the planned layers of trees and flowers in the city itself, as well as the lovely landscape of the surrounding countryside. Walking along the Great Wall, a structure that extends from West to East China, was a powerful experience when pondering on the army of manpower that built it over a period of centuries – symbolic of the endurance of the Chinese people. Being a lover of history, I think this was one of my favorite experiences, seconded by the visit to Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square on Saturday.
I did find it quite remarkable to observe the long line of Chinese people snaking around Tiananmen Square to visit Mao’s remains on a Saturday morning. Maybe his imposing portrait over the whole area had something to do with it, but never did I sense what formerly I would have labeled a spirit of communist oppression; only a strong sense of national pride.
The culture and historical sense offered by a few days in Beijing was later supplanted by a visit to Shanghai – a city with a population of 24 million people and an energy that makes New York City seem like a little village by comparison. After a visit to the Jade Buddha Temple with very detailed explanation of what comprises a Chinese Garden, as well as a visit to a beautiful example of said garden, arriving at Shanghai’s the financial center and the Bund prompted me to remind myself that I still was in China. What a land of contrasts and paradoxes and Shanghai seems to blend so well the East and the West. I loved its energy and its people, especially our new friends, Penny and Jane.
This Chinese adventure included other cities besides the two biggest and well-known. Arriving in Zhuhai in the south, so near Macau, reminded me of getting off a plane in Miami with the heat, humidity, palm trees and smell of the sea.
Once again wonderful people and a whole new variety of food awaited us as we toured around Macau, mimicked the pose of the Pearl Girl and visited the most elaborate fish market that I ever saw. The beautiful city of Hangzhou and the West Lake boat ride were so serene and lovely, as was the city of Ningbo where we had the privilege of visiting a Chinese school. That was another highlight of this trip since we were able to meet faculty and students, have lunch with them and then enjoy some discussion of school practices and ideas – what matters most to educators no matter where they live and work.
While the above provides a thumbnail picture of our trip to China it does not take into account the most fundamental and important aspect of experience and that was getting to meet and talk meaningfully to so many people at the various expos and agencies.
While we American educators had the privilege of presenting on certain topics of American education and also on our own particular schools, we also had the privilege of interviewing prospective candidates to our schools.
I learned so much from the thirty some young ladies that we interviewed, as well as all of the students with whom we played some games or celebrated with Moon Cakes. I still think of those conversations and what they shared which has helped me in connecting with our Chinese students here at Villa Maria. Their passion for a good education was palpable and their love and pride for their country was so impressive. This visit made me so aware that they had every reason to be proud to carry a Chinese passport.
Of course I cannot say enough for another group of people whom I had the privilege to know on this adventure and that is our Group of Seven. Suzy and Julianne from New Oasis were delightful planners and organizers, so aware of every detail, as well as just plain fun to be with.
Our companions from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and North Carolina were so easy to travel with and also so supportive of all of our ventures. It was a group of strangers on September 15 and a group of close-knit colleagues who said good-bye in Beijing’s airport on September 28.
One person that I had only an opportunity to meet briefly but whom I hold in admiration and awe is Sean Chen, founder, President and CEO of New Oasis. The philosophy of cultural openness and personal interaction on both sides of the Chinese International student exchange is clearly defined and realistically executed through the vision he brings to his company and the personal experiences that he made possible for me as part of this adventure will be embedded into my consciousness for the rest of my days. I am most grateful!
Sister Regina J. Ryan, IHM, Ed.D.
Principal: Villa Maria Academy High School and traveler to China
Like a family, the seven “First-Timers” shared a similar experience; we were all in China for the same two weeks. And just like a family, we all took away our own memories and impressions.
We ate together- most meals were a minimum of 15 dishes- with varying degrees of shock and awe, we gratefully received dishes that pushed our boundaries and expanded our taste buds. I know I’m not that adventurous at home! But since returning, I have reminded myself that I, “Just said yes!” then, so I may as well keep on. I hear so many voices telling me that mushrooms are good for you, they keep away cancer, so I’ve been experimenting with them at home!
We played together- we hopped on those tour buses like the Brady Bunch! Museums, temples, The Great Wall, trinket shopping, we learned that haggling is an art (and not all of us are Monet…) and dividing by six is a skill best left to young minds or a calculator.
We wandered together- being set free to explore was a gift! We met the kindest people, discovered how nachos taste even better in an Irish pub overlooking the South China Sea and found that even a short trip on the Bullet Train is time well spent!
We wondered together- as we went through the temples, the library, the museums, and restaurants, we marveled at the rich history and culture our Chinese students bring with them. We noticed how many similarities we could find – a smile goes a long way, we all seek to understand and be understood, and how it is totally possible to simultaneously embrace the exotic and crave the familiar.
Seven strangers started the trip- one wonderful family returned, full of memories, ideas, opened eyes and grateful hearts.
Thank you to Sean Chen for creating a company and staffing it with phenomenal people! New Oasis provides opportunities for Chinese students and the fortunate schools who welcome them to grow and learn. The Oakwood School is so much better for our partnership!