There were many hugs and more than a few tears as La Porte High School students and their families bid farewell to their friends from China. Cameras flashed as they took one last photo with the Nankai High School students who, in one short week, had become part of their La Porte families.
The 21 students and three educators from Tianjin, China, were here from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6 as part of the global studies exchange program project sponsored by La Porte ISD and the La Porte Education Foundation. Nankai students stayed in the homes of their La Porte "buddies"--LPHS students who went to China as part of the global studies program in June 2009 or will be participating in June 2010.
Their 4 a.m. departure on Saturday morning was the last listing on a full agenda of activities while they were in La Porte. During the week, students had the opportunity to visit Space Center Houston, cheer on the Houston Rockets, attend the La Porte High School musical "White Christmas," and tour three Houston area universities. They also participated in a "job shadowing" experience with professionals from La Porte and surrounding communities.
In addition, they attended classes with LPHS students, enjoying their participation in a wide range of school activities-from acting out scenes in theater class, to dissecting specimens in the biology laboratory, to learning about football and dance.
The week culminated with a farewell dinner at the San Jacinto Monument on Feb. 5. La Porte High School principal Joanne Kolius presented the Nankai students with honorary diplomas from LPHS with the help of 2010 global studies program leaders Glenda Hernandez, Julie Ipsen and Kathleen Scharchburg. Students from Nankai High School presented songs and a dance, and Nankai student Mu Weiya and LPHS student Nicholas Frobenius reflected on the week.
"The La Porte Education Foundation is so pleased to offer these opportunities to bring together young people from opposite sides of the world," said Terri Cook, executive director of the La Porte Education Foundation. "The week was such a rewarding one for all of us who were involved as the students learned about one another and developed friendships that will continue to grow. We are very grateful to so many in our community who warmly welcomed the Nankai students and contributed to the success of the program."
Many of the families that were involved in the project enjoyed providing a "home away from home" for their visiting student.
"We feel so fortunate to have been a part of the China program," said Jill Robinson, mother of LPHS junior Chelsea Robinson, who was among the LPHS students who traveled to China in June 2009. "With Chelsea's visit to China last year and us hosting a China student this year, it was a truly an educational experience on so many levels."
The Robinson family hosted Nankai student Shen Chaoyang, also called Sally, during the students' visit to La Porte. It was a week of firsts for Sally as Chelsea taught her to play Wii, took her out for the "best sandwich ever," and enjoyed showing her favorite places to shop. Sally particularly enjoyed seeing the La Porte musical and told Robinson that "she had never seen anything like it in her life."
"I wish she could've stayed longer," Robinson said. "I felt like we were just getting to know her, and then she had to go."
The family of Debra Machemehl, a La Porte Education Foundation director who coordinated the homestay arrangements, hosted Kuiliang Dong during the Nankai students' 2009 visit. Machemehl's son, Jonathan, who was a 2008 global studies program participant, continues to correspond with Dong through e-mail and text messages. In addition, Dong's photo with the Machemehl family is on display in the living room of their Tianjin home.
Nancy Li, president of the U.S.-China Friendship Association and vice president of Easton Resource Development, works closely with LPISD and the La Porte Education Foundation on the global studies program. In addition to working on the planning of the trips, Li accompanies the LPHS students on the trip to China and coordinates the Nankai students' trip here.
"Each February marks my anniversary to be in this great country," Li said. "I am very grateful and proud of my achievements that I can accomplish with the greatest people like in La Porte on the most meaningful things, which can touch and impact so many young hearts and their futures on both sides of the world. They inspire me to give more of my love, passion and determination to continue serving as a better bridge and liaison for peoples' friendship, understanding and cooperation between the two greatest nations in the world."
A committee of Foundation and LPISD representatives and Li will now focus their attention on the 2010 LPHS trip to China in June. Twenty students have been selected to participate in the global studies program this year and are currently attending "China School" to learn more about the country and its culture and people.