International Education Week (IEW) celebrates the benefits of international education and exchange. During this week, 19 high school students from UF's P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School are visiting the Nanjing Experimental International School. The students spend the week immersed in a new culture while visiting important historical and cultural sites and engaging with students from China. This trip is part of an ongoing partnership between the schools that began with an inaugural visit in 2013. Including this year's group, 59 P.K. students have made this life-changing trip.
In a literature review published in the Journal of Travel Research, Petrick and Stone determined that educational travel experiences contribute to personal growth, the development of knowledge and skills, and life choices. Students gain knowledge of the rich history and culture of China by exploring the city and visiting prominent landmarks.
One of the first places the students visit is Wai Tan, an area of the city along the Huangpu River where a change from the European style architecture of the early 20th century to the modern style of the Pearl and Shanghai Towers is clearly evident on the opposing river banks. They also visit the Shanghai Museum to observe the collections of jade, calligraphy, Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, clothing, and other crafts.
While in Nanjing, students get a taste of Chinese student life – living in a dorm and eating in the school cafeteria. Skill with chopsticks is definitely on a steep improvement curve when they are the only utensils available! Time on campus with Chinese students and opportunities to spend the weekend with students' families provides definite first-hand experience of Chinese school and family life, as well as an opportunity to be immersed in a language that differs from their native language.
Past students have experienced personal growth and change in perspective that they couldn't have gained in a classroom. At 17 Aaron Gaskin and Jamari Booth became aware of the challenges that came with being unable to speak the native language and how it impacts one’s ability to communicate and it shaped their view on the challenges faced by immigrants. At 15 Savannah Branch became aware of cultural influences on world history curriculum and later spent her junior year on a Rotary Exchange.
Rebecca Schlafke traveled during her freshman year and recounts the experience as difficult but as one of of the best of her life. She returned home from the trip feeling as though she had accomplished something amazing and empowered to accomplish more in the future.
The trip has changed the paths of some of its participants and provided others with lasting friendships. During the trip, Craig Joiner realized that his future was not bound to the United States and is now a fluent Chinese speaker studying Chinese and Japanese at Rice University. Quinn Whitaker is still connected to his host brother 3 years after his trip. Several students including Brooke Allen and Robert Powell have taken gap years to study internationally.
The exposure to a different culture is a positive experience for students regardless of whether or not it inspires them to pursue an international academic program or career. International experiences like this present students with many challenges and exciting opportunities to learn outside of a traditional classroom setting. The personal growth, skills, and knowledge the students gain during the trip will remain with them throughout their lives and continue to shape their future choices and the way they interact with the world around them.
Petrick, James F and Matthew J. Stone. "The Educational Benefits of Travel Experiences: A Literature Review." Journal of Travel Research, Vol 52 , Issue 6, Aug 2013, pp. 731-734.