By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN From snacking on octopus legs to climbing the Great Wall, the 12 students and four faculty members from Delano High School (DHS) who recently traveled to China were definitely open to new experiences.
The group spent about five days staying with host families near Delano’s sister school, Purple Cloud, in Tanggu, China. The trip also included a few days in Beijing, exploring famous landmarks like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
“I thought it was the most fantastic spring break ever,” said junior Thomas Schmidt.
Burleigh Biel, who has taken every Chinese language class offered at Delano schools, agreed.
“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “I hope I can go back again.”
The relationship with Purple Cloud High School goes back to the early 1990s, when a teacher from Purple Cloud came to Delano. After that, the schools began a teacher-exchange program.
Five years ago, the schools started to exchange students, as well.
“This year, we doubled the number of kids who went,” DHS teacher Leo Pospichal said.
Pospichal has enjoyed his trips to China so much that he is resigning from DHS at the end of the school year to teach at an international school in Beijing.
“The culture is just so deep, so beautiful,” he said. “I could probably be there five years and just scratch the surface.”
The other faculty members on the trip included Jamie Longstreet, Julie Longstreet, and Lanette Faul. Faul, a math teacher at DHS, spent a few weeks at Purple Cloud prior to the students’ arrival March 24.
The 12 juniors who were selected for the trip were either part of the National Honor Society or had taken Chinese classes in Delano, including: Lauren Bersie, Burleigh Biel, Cody Bigot, Abigail Bohler, Benjamin Burns, Rachel Hagen, Autumn Ike, Adam Maurer, Nisa Prior, Thomas Schmidt, Shelby Streachek, and Garrett White.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘you don’t change China. China changes you,’” Pospichal said.
That was certainly true for the Delano group, which was immersed in Chinese culture, classes, food, and family life.
“We each stayed with a different family,” Hagen said.
For Hagen, highlights of the trip included a Peking Opera dance class, kite flying with her host family, and climbing the Great Wall.
“We all thought the Great Wall was way harder to climb than we expected it to be. It took us about 40 minutes,” she said. “Our legs were just shaking.”
“That was the most rigorous exercise I’ve done in a long time,” Streachek added, laughing.
The Chinese cuisine was another interesting experience for many of the students.
“I ate dog,” Schmidt said. “They serve it chilled.”
“It was a lot of seafood,” Biel commented. “We had squid and fish with the heads still on.”
Sometimes, the students chose not to ask what type of food they were eating.
“I ate a chicken heart, but I didn’t know it was a chicken heart until after I ate it,” Hagen said.
She also tasted octopus legs.
“Once you got past the suckers, it was actually really good,” she said.
Schmidt said his host mom was an “amazing chef.”
“I had the best breakfast I’d eaten in my life while in China,” he said.
Pospichal said he really enjoys the hospitality of the Chinese people.
“They are almost embarrassingly nice,” he said. “It rivals ‘Minnesota nice’, for sure.”
When Pospichal took his first trip to China in 1998, he said it was a huge culture shock.
“I had never been out of the United States,” he said.
The DHS students, however, were “pretty well prepared.”
“They’re not afraid to try anything,” Pospichal said.
The students spent at least an hour per day in classes at Purple Cloud.
“The school system is a lot different,” Streachek said.
The class sizes were larger, with 35 to 45 students in a room, and the students were allowed to talk to each other during class.
“They were all in Chinese, except for English class,” she said. “It was a great experience.”
The students had the opportunity to try Tae Kwon Do, paper-cutting, Chinese musical instruments, and Chinese calligraphy.
“I liked everything about the trip,” Schmidt said. “It’s just such a different culture.”