Three students from the Comox Valley flew to China in July to attend the 2018 Beijing International Student Summer Camp.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” said Alyssa Biollo, a grade 12 student at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School. Kimberley Tran and Zach Mclaughlin, both also heading into Grade 12, were the two other students from School District 71 accepted to go on this trip.
More than 700 secondary-school students were chosen from 31 different countries. Biollo said students were chosen based on their academic achievement, personality and submitted reference letters.
The three students, along with 19 others from across B.C., spent 10 days in China, learning about the country, its history and building their cultural awareness.
“We had a very packed itinerary that touched on all aspects of Chinese culture. I experienced something new, met amazing people and learned about everyday life in China,” said Biollo.
The delegates learned about Chinese calligraphy, art, carving, and China’s advanced robotics and scientific technology. But they also did a lot of travelling to places like the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest), the Capital Museum, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.
For Biollo, the highlight of the trip was visiting the Great Wall of China.
“The Great Wall of China blew all the expectations I had of it away. Some parts of the wall were flat while others were almost vertical. Climbing it was a pretty difficult task but the view of the fog covered mountains was worth it.”
Biollo said she also liked the ability to bargain for products – something she did successfully at the infamous Silk Market where thousands of vendors sell everything from souvenirs to fake luxury goods.
“I had a huge triumph here when I was able to bargain some goods from over 2000 Yuan (approximatley $383 CAD) down to 550 Yuan (approximately $105 CAD),” said Biollo.
On the second last day, delegates from every country had a chance to share a little bit of their home. Traditional foods and goods were given out from each different country while dances and songs were performed on the centre stage. The Canadian delegates performed an Indigenous dance and finished by singing the national anthem.
However, Biollo and Tran also had to frantically prepare for the Chinese cultural performance as they had agreed to sing a traditional song with some of their Chinese friends. They learned very quickly that it is difficult to sing in Mandarin when you do not know the language.
“We ended up having our Chinese friends sing it to us while we sounded it out and wrote down how it would go phonetically. By the end of the week we were able to sing a solo in front of 1000 students and teachers in, well, pretty shaky Mandarin.”
By the end of the 10 day trip, Biollo said it was hard to say goodbye. She said some of the best friends she made were from countries she didn’t even know existed, and everyone made a huge impact on her life.
“I loved every minute of the time I spent on this trip. It has opened my view on global interactions in a very politically and socially tumultuous time in the world… But this experience made me really think about people. We are all uniquely different, but there is something that makes us all human.”