Thursday, November 15, 2018

My Most Recent Trip to China

This trip to China as a guest of our partner agency, New Oasis International Education, was different from any of my three previous ones. I was invited to be a key-note speaker at New Oasis' Tenth Anniversary Celebration in Beijing on October 10, 2018. Everything else on my trip was built around the anniversary. Because of that, I think, the rest of my travel was much more spontaneous and spur-of-the moment, but, if anything, more informative and exciting. I flew from Charlotte to Newark on Tuesday, October 8, and arrived early morning. Kathy Freeman, New Oasis Director of Partnership Development and an old friend who hosted my two previous trips, met me there, and we flew
together to Shanghai. Three in-flight meals, three movies, lots of naps, and fourteen hours later we landed. Yes, it is a very long flight.

The next day in Shanghai we visited one of China's top universities, specializing in foreign language and international affairs, and also an affiliated high school where New Oasis has created a program called "Pathways" to prepare selected students to come to an American independent school for their high school education. There I interviewed students in hopes that they might attend Gaston Day. Unlike my three previous trips, we did not have any time for sightseeing. For those of you who have been to Shanghai, you know it is one of the greatest, most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

On Wednesday night we flew to Beijing, arriving late. The next day was the 10th Anniversary Celebration, and I was busy making some last minute adjustments to my remarks on the future of international education. New Oasis has about 200 partner schools in the United States, and I was honored to be chosen as one of two American heads of school to speak at the 10th Anniversary Celebration.

With complete candor, I can tell you that I have never seen anything quite like the 10th Anniversary Celebration in terms of pageantry and programming. The event lasted four hours, and I felt like I was at the Academy Awards. There were  hostesses in evening gowns to welcome and assist all the guests. Complex light displays and special effects happened throughout the event. There were drawings for expensive prizes between speakers. Wow!! They really know how to put on a show!! I was so happy for Sean Chen, CEO of New Oasis, who I have come to trust and like through our partnership at Gaston Day. He has worked so hard to make New Oasis into a great company, and the celebration was a source of great pride in his accomplishments.

The next day was my only chance to be a tourist. I was taken to the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace complex. While I had been to both places before, both are remarkable, and any visit is a rare opportunity. Particularly in the case of the Summer Palace, the grounds encompass several hundred acres, and I saw parts that I had never seen before. Both the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace are world heritage sites. I am grateful to Gaston Day for taking me to such exotic locales. Sarah Park and I laugh about my trips to China because I am a homebody. We joke that a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, is a big adventure for me. But Gaston Day has sent me to China now four times.

My last day in Beijing I interviewed students at a fair--all of them knew about Gaston Day, in part because they had prepared for their interviews. As hard as this may be to believe, however, families all across China who are thinking about sending their children to the United States for high school know and respect Gaston Day. It really is hard to believe, but, at least in China, Gaston Day School has a strong international reputation.

From Beijing, Sean, Kathy and I flew to Chongqing in central China to visit schools there. Chongqing is on the Yangtze River and arguably has more population than any city in the world: estimated at 40 million. Compared to Beijing and Shanghai, however, Chongqing is more provincial. To me, Chongqing reminds me of how China used to be when I first visited the country fifteen years ago. The pace of change and progress is so fast in China that places seems noticeably more modern each time I am there. Chongqing will not remain provincial long.

The flight back on October 16 was made easier by the prospect of coming home. There will probably be more trips to China in my future. Through our partnership with New Oasis and all the wonderful Chinese students who attend Gaston Day, I am linked to China, and my life is so much richer because of the connection. Never in my life would I have anticipated this marvelous, unexpected dimension to my educational career.