Ten students and two staff from Hood River Valley High School are traveling to China this summer as part of the Confucius Institute program at Portland State University, a cultural exchange and cooperation program between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
Teacher Shen Dingfei, who teaches Mandarin at HRVHS as part of the Confucius Institute program, helped to organize two separate trips to China: The first is a two-week tour of the country and the second is a one month immersion study program.
The tour group will leave June 24 and the study group July 5. Five students out of 36 statewide — most from the Portland area — will join the tour group, and another five — out of just 10 spaces statewide — will join the study group.
“I want to keep learning Mandarin and it’s easier to learn if you’re immersed,” said sophomore Grace Skakel, who will travel with the study group.
“I made it my goal to go to China before I left high school,” said sophomore Fiona Rand. “This is the perfect opportunity. I love the culture — it interests me.”
CI-PSU is financing most of the trip, said Dingfei; only visas and airfare aren’t covered.
“This is sponsored by the Chinese government,” he said. “The Confucius Institute sends students to China from all over the world.”
Even tourist-related expenses will be covered, Dingfei said. HRVHS social studies teacher Eric Keller will serve as chaperone.
Dingfei paid for the application fees using his Chinese-sponsored classroom budget to the tune of $150 for each travel trip and $300 per study trip. He handpicked the students selected for the trip based on those interested in the journey and weren’t put off by the “torturous” application process. Students also had to take a language test before being accepted by CI-PSU.
Students making the trip will be Dylan Farris, sophomore; Hao Truong, senior; Skakel; Rand; Jennelle Orozco, freshman; Gene Bronson, freshman; Emma Burck, senior; Chad Klaas, junior; Sarah Wang, junior; and Jose Rivera, junior.
Burck and Bronson will continue with their travels afterwards, Burck to Guangzhou, the village where she grew up before being adopted and moving to Hood River; and Bronson to Taiwan, his mother’s home country, to visit family there.
On June 6, Dingfei met with students to talk about their upcoming trips and give last-minute tips.
“China is a safe place, so don’t worry about safety issues,” he said “Chinese people are nice to foreigners. But some things — especially if you have food on your own, you need to ask (what’s in it). Pay attention. We don’t have food allergies, we just eat anything, but here, it happens a lot.
“Second, you’re okay if you stay with your tour, but you’ll be staying (in China) for one month and will have a lot of time off. Be careful with traffic when you cross the streets. You’ll be walking a lot.”
He also recommended making native-speaking friends.
“Don’t depend on teachers and tutors,” he said. “Find other materials. Go shopping and talk to the owner. That will help a lot.”
While Dingfei will not be part of either tour, he said he plans to visit the students. He has taught at HRVHS for the past two years, both as a Mandarin language teacher and adviser of the school’s Asian Club. The aim of his position, he said in a January News article, was to help students learn more about the Chinese language and culture, and further communications between China and other countries. Another CI teacher will take his place at HRVHS, but at press time, he was unsure of who it would be or when they would come.
Additionally, HRVHS band and choir teacher Dan Kenealy will go to Beijing July 12 through August 1 to study at the International Music School, again through CI-PSU in partnership with the Central Conservatory of Music.
“This year, they selected five musicians to go to Beijing to study Chinese music and culture,” said Kenealy. “While I am there, I will be assigned one of five traditional Chinese instruments to start learning. The program ends with a closing concert, where I will perform my assigned instrument along with the other students from all over the world who have been selected for the program.”
The program also includes workshops and lectures from professors on the history and construction of each of the five instruments, as well as professional demonstrations, he said.
“I am very excited — there will also be some sightseeing, including the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, and the National Museum of China.”