I was sitting in my car in Manukau at just after 10.30pm, having just ended a long-distance phone call with my Deputy Principal in China, who had recounted the events which had unfolded that afternoon in our sister-school, 9000km away. One of our 11-year-old student travellers had suffered an anaphylactic reaction, and Tracy had experienced a ride in the back of an ambulance, and witnessed a happy recovery of the young girl at the hands of caring Chinese medics.
Despite the occasional hiccup, having primary-aged children travel overseas is something we have done successfully for a couple of years, inspired by the experiences of our neighbouring intermediates and colleges. Whilst our travelling numbers haven’t been huge, we see the links with our sister school, and the benefits of reciprocal visits, as a long-term project, and consider our early experiences as being very formative in helping us lay the foundation for trips to come.
As a school, we have strong links to our Chinese community. Almost 50 per cent of our pupils identify as Chinese and since we include 22 different ethnicities in our roll, our teachers and students need to be adept with a wide range of cultures. We see the provision of our annual trip as a way to offer both children and staff means of broadening their cultural horizons through experiencing the place at first hand; an immersive experience in school, home life and cities in the fantastic country of China.
Our travellers generally spend 10 days overseas, and split their time between the city of Shanghai, and the town of Yuyao, about three hours’ drive South. Like the students who visit our own school annually in return, the classroom time is built around shared cultural experiences, special sessions designed to overcome the language barrier, and to give a taster into the uniqueness of Chinese customs and pastimes.
The hospitality shown towards our children by their homestay host families is truly staggering – indeed, this is almost exclusively the highlight of each person’s trip, exceeding the sights and sounds of Shanghai, bartering in the markets, or the experience of heading away from Aotearoa on a plane with classmates. To a large extent, the tourists know what to expect; our school would love to take all applicants on the visit, but we do our research, and only select those who we are confident will be able to handle the experience. Months of preparation mean that the students, and adults accompanying the tour, have had their questions answered, been through every eventuality, and have an insight into the delights and challenges to come.
And did her traumatic experience put off my DP? Not a bit – no stone is left unturned in preparing for the visit. We have strong systems in place, and understand things don’t always go to plan (as they rarely do when children are involved), but our procedures kicked in, and everyone was safe and well following treatment. As a school, we view our overseas experiences as great opportunities to learn, and we plan to go on refining and expanding our visits in coming years.