By Rachel Schwartz
Twelve Beijing teenagers were surprised by the sense of freedom and teamwork they observed in the classes they audited during their visit to the Upper School on Feb. 1. The High School No. 1 Affiliated to Beijing Normal University visited some of the most prestigious universities in the country, and Harvard-Westlake hosted them for a day.
In return, during the Spring Break trip to China, Harvard-Westlake students will spend time at the Beijing high school.
Chinese teacher Quinru Zhou, who made arrangements with the high school’s administration, has been looking for a school to connect with for Harvard-Westlake’s spring break trip to China since 2000.
At the end of March, “we will have a 10-day language and cultural study program supported by them, including living in their international student dorms, having meals at their cafeteria and extension language and cultural courses,” Zhou said.
“We visited some famous universities in China and we went to famous American Universities so students can see what their futures might be,” English teacher and chaperone of the trip Yizhu Deng said, though attendance as graduate students rather than undergraduates is more likely for students from China.
“Generally, Chinese modern schools are established under the guidelines similar to Western systems,” Zhou said. “The essential difference is that in the U.S., students choose classes with the guidance of deans according to the school’s requirements and policy, and Chinese students go through the same required classes.”
In China, all students are required to learn English and begin their studies in primary school where they receive English names.
“I think the way of thinking is different,” Johnny, one of the visiting juniors, said. “At Harvard-Westlake, you can do what you want to do and the school offers that.”
The students spent the morning auditing English, history, journalism, math and science classes. Deng said the students were interested by the range of choices afforded to students at Harvard-Westlake.
“Their main work is to pass their exams,” Deng said when visiting the Advanced Journalism course.
She noted that the rigor of their courses does not allow for many extracurriculars and electives.
“Your school is so big,” Alex said. “From the outside corner of our school to the other end is a one minute walk.”
High School No. 1’s campus is one building at the center of Beijing. Except for classes that require special facilities, students at High School No. 1 stay in one classroom all day while the teachers rotate.
Each of their classes usually has about 40 students.
“China has too many people,” Johnny said.
Foreign Language Department Chair Paul Chenier, who hosted the visit along with the rest of the department, prepared the event with student hosts Eli Haims ’12, Justin Ho ’12, Gabi Kuhn ’12 and Rayne Peerenboom ’14. His colleagues and the student hosts helped welcome the students in the Emery Room.