A Virtual Trip to China

Travel to China is still out of the question. But the students in Qihui Tang’s Chinese IV class got at least a taste of what it would be like to visit the country in a recent lesson that combined language, culture, and geography to give students a glimpse of life beyond the classroom.

“In the Chinese program, we don’t use published textbooks; instead, we write our own materials that are geared toward what our students need,” Tang says. “So in Chinese II, it’s about their activities, their hobbies, their pets—their immediate circle. And then in Chinese III, it’s about their classes, the clubs at Sidwell. In Chinese IV, the world gets even bigger.”

Working in groups, the students had to plan a 10-day, three-stop trip to China, visiting areas of their choosing. This isn’t a lesson about finding the cheapest flight or the most luxurious hotel, though—it’s about virtually immersing themselves in the geography and culture of the diverse nation.

The student groups varied widely in their choices of stops; Lydia Johnson’s ’25 team opted for a trip that included Beijing, Chongqing, and Shanghai. Johnson studied Chinese for nine years at the DC International School before starting at Sidwell Friends this year; she took the lead for the Chongqing stop.

“I was going to stay at a resort hotel and go to a museum and some temples in town,” she says. “And I definitely was going to the town square to eat hot pot. I’d never really heard of Chongqing, and it turned out to be much bigger than I expected.”

Johnson appreciated the creativity of the project. “It made you more engaged in the language—rather than listening and regurgitating, you’re actively thinking,” she says. “And it serves as a little bit of inspiration. I haven’t been to China, but I want to, and I want to be able to communicate with people while I’m there.”

Tang’s long hope for the project and for the Chinese program as a whole is that the students can put their education into practice—not just for visiting the Forbidden City or the Great Wall, but for improving cultural understanding.

“In a way, the class is about giving students the chance to discover for themselves the diversity of China,” she says. “And sometimes they find that things are different there, but that doesn’t mean bad. Sometimes you can see under the surface level of difference that, down at the bottom, we still have things in common.”

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