A group of Chinese exchange students had their horizons expanded through a visit to beautiful Blount County Sunday morning, dining on a picnic brunch of all-American favorites beneath the lakeside outdoor pavilion of Maryville’s McCord Farms.
The gathering, involving more than 30 third- through seventh-grade students from Hangzhou, China — plus several parents and Hangzhou school officials, as well — was part of an ongoing exchange program sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and Dongcheng Education Group in China.
This marks the fourth year of the exchange program, which began in 2012 when a group of Rutherford County elementary school students visited Hangzhou.
The program calls for the two sponsoring educational organizations to trade off playing host, with Tennessee students visiting China one year, and Hangzhou students visiting the U.S. the next.
But this year marked the first time the Murfreesboro-based program has included a stopover in East Tennessee on the visiting students’ itinerary.
“We decided to take them here this time because this is such a beautiful part of the state,” said MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee. “We wanted them to experience as many of the cultural, musical, and educational opportunities in Tennessee as possible.”
After the morning picnic stopover, the students were scheduled to visit The Lost Sea, an underground lake attraction in Sweetwater, before returning to Murfreesboro.
The morning meal provided a window into some of the cultural differences between the Chinese visitors and their American hosts.
A handful of Murfreesboro-area elementary school students and teachers — veterans of the program from previous years — were along for the ride Sunday morning.
The main table of the buffet-style spread was laden with traditional American picnic treats — hot dogs and cheeseburgers and potato chips and chicken wings.
The desert table, though, offered a mound of rich chocolate brownies on one end, balanced by a platter full of melon slices on the other. “Our kids, they go nuts for sweets,” said Elizabeth McPhee, wife of Sidney McPhee, and a longtime Rutherford County school teacher.
“But the Chinese kids, they love watermelon for desert.”
McPhee remembers how the Chinese students who visited in 2013 were reticent about eating from a plate of chicken, because the chicken was garnished with black pepper.
And a group of Rutherford County students, upon their visit to Hangzhou in 2012, had their courage tested at the buffet table by a platter full of whole, prepared frogs.
But McPhee said the exchange program — which sees Chinese and American students share time together in a classroom setting, as well as in informal settings like the picnic — reveals more about the students’ common humanity than their cultural divergence.
“The last day of the trip is always hard,” she said. “Because our kids end up crying. Their kids end up crying.
“Parents will tell me, after one of the exchanges, ‘Our kids have changed their way of thinking.’ I myself, after the first visit, I changed the way I perceived my class. Teachers and students alike, everyone learns so much.”
Source: The Daily Times