About 50 students from China spent a couple of days here last week, visiting with others their age, sharing music and practicing their English.
The visit was the first edition of an exchange program, or “sisterhood,” that Livingston Middle School hopes to continue with Beijing Runfeng School, according to principals from both schools.
The Beijing school brought children from third through eighth grade. They participated in rallies at the Livingston school with their American counterparts and a final music and dance performance for the greater community after school on Thursday.
Yiheng “William” Hu, 9, served as the spokesman for the group because his English was the best, his teachers said. The fourth-grader said he saw “very cool” sights everywhere he went in California.
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He said his favorite part of the state was the warm weather and good air quality. “I think you have four seasons in a day,” he said with a laugh.
Back home, he said, it’s much colder this time of year and it’s rare to see a clear blue sky. He was also impressed that every student has a laptop, and he liked biting into American hamburgers, hot dogs and sub sandwiches.
William Marroquin, principal of Livingston Middle School, said the visit was a good opportunity for his students to broaden their perspectives through cultural exchange with foreign students.
The students got a taste of what the world looks like when standing in each others’ shoes, Marroquin said. But he also saw similarities. “Kids are kids no matter where they are,” he said.
This isn’t the first connection the city has had with China. Last year Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza, Councilman Jim Soria, former City Manager Jose Ramirez and others visited the country for 10 days. Ramirez told the Merced Sun-Star he had his eyes open for networking opportunities for Livingston and possibly finding a sister city in China.
City officials said they paid for a portion of that trip with their own money, and the Chinese government covered the rest.
On Thursday, the Livingston Middle School band played during the culminating ceremony, followed by performances from the choir, band and dancers from Beijing Runfeng School.
Yu Liu, principal of the Beijing school, echoed the same hopes for her students as Marroquin did his. It is important to “open their eyes,” she said through a translator. “We want to know the culture of America,” she said.
The Livingston students said their Chinese counterparts seemed to be excited and curious about everything American. They saw pictures of the Beijing school and learned that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is popular there.
Alexy Gonzalez, 13, said the Chinese students – who dress in uniforms and go to school for four 10-hour days a week – live different lives, but she felt a connection. “They’re really affectionate,” the eighth-grader said. “I’ve never gotten so many hugs in my life.”
Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.