Immersed in culture

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James Hargest College pupil Hannah Barton (18, right) alongside an interperter during the Youth Leadership Summit and Young Ambassadors Chinese Cultural Exchange in China in July.

HE Earth is flat.

James Hargest College pupil Hannah Barton explained how she learnt about the flat Earth philosophy when she attended the Youth Leadership Summit and Young Ambassadors Chinese Cultural Exchange to China in July.

It was at one of the opening lectures during the summit when the speaker said although we came from different cultures, and we may look different, we “wear the same clothes… we are all the same”, she said.

Hannah, who turned 18 while flying over Papua New Guinea, said the cultural exchange had combined “education, culture and civic engagement”.

One of three Southlanders in the group of 17 teenagers, Hannah said this was her first overseas experience, apart from travelling to Australia.

Hannah learnt of the opportunity to take part in the summit as part of Global Engagement New Zealand through her college, which also contributed to her expenses. She was also awarded a scholarship by the ILT Foundation.

Hannah said the trip fitted in with her plan to learn accounting at Otago University in Dunedin with an international business paper next year, and it was also an opportunity to make comparisons between different countries.

Eating chickens’ feet and the toilets were some of the differences she wasn’t expecting.

Most places had “squat toilets”, except for the hotels which had western-style ones, she said.

Adapting to the weather was another challenge.

“It was so hot the whole time we were there… in the mid-30s… and the humidly was also high which meant we sweated a lot.”

As it was the typhoon season, the weather went from one extreme to another.

“We had just brought fans because it was so hot, then we had to rush over to buy an umbrella because all of a sudden it would pour down heavily for 10 minutes.”

As well as checking out the usual “tourist stuff and culture”, such as the Olympic stadium in Beijing, the Great Wall, visiting the New Zealand Embassy, the Buddhist Lingyin Temple in Hongzhou, Tianamen Square and The Forbidden City, the delegates also visited an enormous movie museum.

“It was like a castle on the outside, and had movies throughout the eras from black and white films to cool arty things – walls and walls showing all sorts of movies. You could stand on a spot and a hologram moved [and interacted] with you.”

Visiting the Confucius Temple (Kong Miao) in Qufu, which was built in 478BC, was one of the highlights for Hannah. Qufu is considered the hometown of the Chinese philosopher, who was born nearby in 551BC.

“The temple was very beautiful… and we also visited his grave. We spent a night looking at the temple of Confucius as he was a big figurehead in China and has a large impact on a lot of people.”

While there, each of the delegates were given a wall hanging which was inscribed by the 74th grandson of Confucius about long life and happiness, Hannah said.

Spending a night at a homestay with a traditional family was another learning curve, especially with food etiquette, such as not crossing their chopsticks, and learning if an older person put some food on a person’s plate, it was respectful to eat it.

The group was introduced to other aspects of Chinese culture in Hongzhou, where one of the challenges was to learn a phrase in Mandarin.

“Everything was full-on… even at the opening ceremony where we were welcomed. It was quite official with these wall things all the students signed,” she said, as well as cultural immersion including a musical performance.

While there, the group also visited Hou Hai, one of the West Lakes, which Hannah described as “one of the prettiest places”.

The Kiwis also visited Alibaba China, a multi-national company which specialised in e-commerce, retail and internet, as well as artificial intelligence and technology.

Although it took five hours to travel from Hongzhou to Beijing, Hannah said she she didn’t even notice how fast they were travelling aboard the bullet train, even though it travelled at 300kmh.

Most of summit took place in Qingdao, a port city of skyscrapers on the Yellow Sea, where the delegates stayed in a high school school dorm for the week.

“The school was absolutely huge… probably about the same size of Otago University.”

Over the week a variety of lecturers gave their perspective on a variety of subjects, including globalisation and what it meant now.

Hannah said the summit had taught her a lot about leadership, and she had learned a lot about herself.

“I have become more confident… and have made some great connections, not only in China, but in New Zealand as well.

One of the best aspects was “meeting a whole lot of new people for the first time and feeling the friendliness… and experiencing a new country with those friends”.

As for the future, this taste of Asia has “made me want to travel a lot more and learn Mandarin”, Hannah said.

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