Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel is on a two-week trip to China, sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The experience is an educational and cultural exchange between the Confucius Institute and Xi’an Jiaotong University, sister university of UNL. The traveling group includes representatives from Lincoln Public Schools, UNL, the city of Lincoln and state government. The itinerary includes events – including several visits to Chinese schools – designed to exchange ideas and increase cross-cultural understanding between the two countries.
Joel will share periodic reports of the journey.
The days go by incredibly fast here. The pace set by the Confucius Institute is intense as they try to get in as much activity as possible.
We are now in Xi’an, the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s partner university. The visit to the museum was amazing, just as Dr. Marilyn Moore (associate superintendent for Instruction at Lincoln Public Schools) and others told us from their previous journey here. The stifling heat aside, we were caught up in the history of the warriors and how they were discovered and restored to their original appearance after many years. This experience was certainly a highlight of the trip.
Before we left Beijing, I had an opportunity to visit with school officials of an international school. They have a great interest in partnering with our school district in providing international exchanges for their students and staff. One hundred percent government funded, resources seem abundant as they indicated their budget is whatever is needed to fulfill the mission of being the top high school in Beijing and all of China. They are proud that about 25 percent of their students come from across the world, and want to expand similar opportunities to more of their students Unfortunately, the national test was being administered at their site during my visit, and they would not let me have access to any of their buildings or students.
We have heard much about the tests in Chinese schools and the importance of doing well. Numerous articles have described parents who sacrifice much of their wealth for their children in order to fulfill expectations for test scores good enough to gain entry into a top university. Even our guides could remember the intensity surrounding the time they took the tests, and what it meant to their families. Police are present at the test sites and students who are more than 15 minutes late (or sick) have to wait until the following year. China is definitely high stakes compared to us.
I learned a valuable lesson this morning as I went on a morning run with another member of the group. We took what we thought was an easy route with just a couple of turns. Unfortunately, when we came to one of the main crossings we didn’t recognize any of the landmarks and realized we had made a mistake. We stopped and asked a number of people, including police, for directions back to our hotel. But we could not get anyone to understand us until we asked a young man who, to our relief, was able to make a call to a friend who did a Google search for directions. Although we were actually only a few blocks off course, both of us were beginning to get a little anxious and we realized that we should have had a hotel card. This experience will probably make the list of humorous stories, but we certainly learned a lesson about the difficulty of traveling in a foreign land without the ability to communicate. Remind me to tell you about the charades we used to try and show the Chinese what we were talking about. It may have been “YouTube” worthy.
We are heading on a city tour this morning and a visit to the Muslim community. Tomorrow begins a steady visit of schools and classes at the university.