Exchange program brings Chinese culture to Landon

Students and Chinese peers share experiences, ideas

Exchange program brings Chinese culture to LandonWhen it comes to learning about a foreign culture, classroom knowledge is valuable, but direct contact with that culture is invaluable.

That’s something that Landon boys experience for two weeks each January when the school’s students, teachers and families open their classrooms and homes to welcome exchange students from Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, China — part of the Chinese Scholastic Exchange Program that has brought more than 350 high-school sophomores and juniors (both boys and girls), as well as teacher chaperones, to Landon and sister school Holton-Arms since its inception in 1996. (Holton joined the program in 2001.)

 “The exchange program provides Chinese students the chance to visit America and see what it’s like, and Landon students the opportunity to learn about a culture other than their own,” said the program’s director and founder, Upper School Chinese teacher Xiaohong Yang Herrle. “It brings the cultures together, so I think it’s amazing that we offer this. I love bridging the gap between these two groups.”

This year, seven boys, 10 girls and three chaperones made the trip to live with Landon and Holton families for two weeks. While here, they attended classes, showcased their musical and dance talents at Landon’s annual China Roundtable (held January 26), and joined their peers in exploring the D.C. area on a number of organized outings — including trips to the Smithsonian museums, tours of the White House and U.S. Capitol Building (where they met Sen. Dick Durbin, uncle of Conor Durbin ’17), and an eagerly anticipated shopping trip to Costco.

Jackson Powell ’17, Jack Porter ’17 and Conor Durbin, students in Yang Herrle’s Chinese III class and three of the boys whose families hosted exchange students, seized the opportunity to learn about their guests’ culture and give them a taste of the true America in return.

Powell introduced his guest, Yichen Zhao, to Washington Wizards basketball and Don Pollo Peruvian chicken, and the two were thrilled to discuss the differences between their respective cultures. “Zhao said that in China, instead of having a two-way conversation with the teacher like we do here, they really just have more of a lecture,” he said. “I thought that was interesting.”

Porter, whose family has hosted exchange students from Italy and Spain in the past, enjoyed discovering unexpected similarities with his guest Yunji Qian. “At first, Qian seemed a little more formal than we are here, but over time he got more relaxed,” he said. “We took him to a couple of movies, and he seemed to like those. And he loved my dogs — he doesn’t have any back home, so he was always spending time with them. Really, there’s nothing that’s so different; he’s just a good person to hang out with.”

Exchange program brings Chinese culture to LandonDurbin and his guest Zhenyu Liu (who went by the American name Peter while here) bonded over games of football and ping pong as well as a shared fondness for pizza. They also gave each other valuable language pointers. “He taught me a ton of Chinese. Apparently my tone was kind of bad, so he helped me out with that,” said Durbin. “Peter’s English is amazing, but in the two weeks I’ve known him he’s learned a lot more of the terms we use here. He’s so much more confident now.”

What Durbin appreciated most, however, was how seamlessly Peter was accepted by his family, especially his 10-year-old brother. “It was like having a third brother in the house,” Durbin said. “My family and I were talking about it at the dinner table, and we’d definitely do this program again.”

Porter enjoyed the experience so much that he plans to further explore Chinese culture by taking advantage of the four-week Landon Summer travel program to China offered each year. “I’d like to visit China maybe next year, but this year I’ll probably just learn a little more Chinese,” he said. 

Yang Herrle is happy to see students from both countries embrace these opportunities. “This is a social network for Landon boys,” she said. “It’s something fun and meaningful and an invaluable experience that we provide for Landon students, so that’s why we keep doing this program every year.”