Hong Kong exchange students take in the Berkshires

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Photo Gallery | Hong Kong exchange students visit Mount Everett

SHEFFIELD — Eight exchange students from China recently wrapped up an 11-day visit to the United States based at Mount Everett Regional High School. They had a jam-packed immersion, from study the literature of Henry David Thoreau to fine arts; attending a high school basketball game and fashion show; bonding with their host families and new friends and taking field trips to cultural attractions in the Berkshires and New York City.

But asked to list one thing she'll take away from her first experience abroad, 14-year-old Lydia Cheung said, "The idea of a slower lifestyle. In China our lifestyle is too fast. We must learn to slow down."

She and her travel mates, who range in age from 12 to 14 attend the Hong Kong Baptist University Affiliated School Wong Kam Fai Secondary and Primary School, located in the Sha Tin district of the New Territories in northern Hong Kong.

There, they attend classes for at least eight hours a day, some spending an additional two hours in after-school tutoring sessions. Students in their school also tend to participate in academic, athletic, and visual and performing arts competitions to round out their portfolios used for university admission.

Cally Fan, the Hong Kong school's coordinator of student advancement support, who accompanied the students on their trip, said that the learning environment for most Chinese students is "nearly silent," "students don't get to express themselves like they do here. Hopefully they'll cherish what they have learned and experienced here."

"We all feel we are very lucky and it is an honor to be here," said Ryan Ng, 12.

Last Wednesday morning, they followed Mt. Everett agriculture teacher Danielle Melino out to the school's barn to see three lambs born over the weekend. James Hung, 14, got to hold a lamb, also named James, who, like the student, was wearing a blue jacket.

Snow was another highlight for the exchange students. In Hong Kong, the current daily temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit are in the mid-60s. Mount Everett senior Cali Wood showed the visitors proper snowball rolling techniques and smiled as she watched her younger Chinese peers try their hand at throwing snowballs, sculpting a snowman and making snow angels.

"It's cool to watch them see things for the first time," said Wood, whose family hosted Anson Au, 14. The Wood family has previously hosted exchange students visiting the school from Egypt.

Mount Everett has a formal "Global Education" program, and in 2014, joined the World Education Alliance. That same year a couple of students traveled to China to participate in an annual International Symposium of Water Resources Protection. A Mount Everett group will return to the symposium in September, which will be held in Berlin, Germany.

Mount Everett first-year world history class students said the idea of cultural exchanges interests them. Both Anna Dupont and Sophia Zah-Greenspan have family members living in Cameroon, Africa and Romania, respectively, and said they look forward to travel there. Other students listed Greece, South America and Australia as sites they'd like to visit.

"I think exchange programs are good for students here because it makes people realize there's a world out there beside the Berkshires," said freshman Zoe Becker.

Freshman Samuel Webb agreed and said, "It's nice to build connections so you get to know people around the world and maybe have a couch to crash on when you visit."


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