By Sharon Fountain, Chicago Crusader
For the average African American student, a trip to China over summer break is a dream saved for a wish list or so it seems. The Chicago Urban League (CUL) recently welcomed back their fourth group of students from a mission trip to China, who had just lived the dream.
Twenty-four students from all over Chicago applied and were chosen out of numerous applications to become ambassadors for two weeks. Once selected the students attended special classes at the Chicago Urban League to immerse them in the Chinese culture, customs and cuisine. Four years of preparing students enables CUL to prepare the students for most of the cultural differences and a few of the unexpected.
In what is now a tradition, a week before they departed, the CUL gave the students a send-off party – Chinese style. Danielle Parker, Director of the Center for Student Development at the Urban League has planned and organized the China mission since it started. Parker, along with other staff, transformed one of the conference rooms into a Chinese experience from the ceiling to the floor complete with decorations and food.
Shari Runner, president and CEO of the Urban League thanked the students, their parents and relatives, as well as the chaperones for their part in making the trip possible. The three chaperones were Larry Witry, CUL Controller; Andrew Wells, Director of Workforce Development; and Danielle Parker. Runner asked the students to share their experiences when they return with their peers so they will know “there is something beyond the city of Chicago.”
The Center for Student Development’s goal is to introduce students to new opportunities and experiences in addition to offering a continuum of services for middle school through college students that prepares them to compete in a growing global economy. The China mission is just one of the opportunities. Most if not all of the students were active in a program at CUL prior to the trip, while others found out about the trip through word of mouth and applied.
Many students come to the U.S. from China to study so in 2009 President Barack Obama launched the 100,000 Strong Educational Exchange Initiative to increase the number of American students studying in China.
In a partnership with the China-United States Exchange Foundation, the Wanxiang Group works with groups in the United States that send students to China. In China, Wanxiang is one of the biggest private companies known for manufacturing automotive parts and various energy related products in the U.S. and China. They also have a university, which is where the students lived and studied during the trip. Once in China, Wanxiang paid for all accommodations, including transportation and food. Other sponsors included Walgreens and United Airlines.
The itinerary was packed with the usual and customary tourist sites, as well as many learning experiences in and out of the classrooms. There were three cities visited – Beijing and the Great Wall of China, Hangzhou and Shanghai.
Each day the students utilized social media to share their experiences and keep in touch with family and friends. They all said the best part of the trip was visiting the Great Wall of China.