Paul VI’s Chinese course goes on the road

Abigail Mix asked the question in Chinese at a Beijing restaurant. The Paul VI Catholic High School sophomore and Chinese language student was given the glass of water she asked for and then said in English, "It worked."

Mix was part of a group of six students, two chaperones and Chinese language teacher Liangyan Wang who spent their Easter break in the Middle Kingdom to learn about China and use their Mandarin Chinese.

PVI is the only school in the Arlington Diocese to offer a Chinese language course. For the past two years, Wang meticulously planned an educational trip to China to augment the course curriculum.

"Our students practice their Chinese in a classroom setting, which helps build a foundation in the language," she said. "The next step is to place them in an environment with native Chinese speakers so they can apply what they have learned and gain confidence in using the language. Visiting China can be a life-changing experience; the wealth of world famous sites benefits our students across all study topics and offers an 'awe and wonder' experience."

The China trip consisted of three cities: Beijing, Xian and Shanghai. Each destination provided a unique learning perspective for the students. Beijing is China's capital and political center, Xian is the ancient capital and Shanghai is the commercial and financial hub.

In Beijing, students visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and The Great Wall.

"Climbing the Great Wall was simply amazing," said senior David Capen. "The massive size of the structure is beyond description."

Students also experienced the modern side of Beijing with its numerous skyscrapers, extensive subway system and the 2008 Olympic Venue.

Part of the Beijing visit was on Easter Sunday. Finding a Catholic service in China can be challenging but the group prevailed and attended Mass at St. Joseph's Church, a beautiful structure built in 1655 by Jesuit missionaries.

"I think attending Easter Mass in China is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said senior Kathleen McLean. "I have only ever been to Mass in America. It amazed me that halfway around the world people believe in the same things we do. Even though the service was in Chinese I could follow along because the Mass itself was the same."

After Beijing, the group flew to the ancient Chinese capital of Xian, where they visited the famous Terracotta Warriors. More than 8,000 sculptures depict the armies of Emperor Qin Shihuang and were buried with him in 210 BC.

The group then traveled to Shanghai and toured the Pudong financial district, the old city center and the Shanghai commercial district. They also spent an afternoon at a rural grade school at Jin Shan district, Shanghai Lang Xia Middle school, where both PVI and Lang Xia students participated in a language exchange activity.

"I think knowing some Chinese for this trip was very helpful," said sophomore Molly Cox. "I used Chinese to the best of my ability to communicate with others and it was a great educational and cultural experience. After this trip I feel more confident speaking Chinese. I know that I am able to have a full conversation without any help."

Classmate Abigail Mix agreed. "Traveling to China really helped me appreciate the language more and helped me to put the language I have been learning into practice," she said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015