March 20, 2017

Capstone 2017: Parent Update

Today marks the beginning of our second week in China, and we’ve just arrived in Xi’an. As I write this, the busy sounds of the street below our hotel fill the room and the neon lights a path all the way to the City Wall, built in the 14th century. History is particularly heavy in this town.

Today was a travel day. Bus, plane, and a long walk all contribute to some restlessness in the kids, and fatigue in the parents. But spirits are high and we’re all excited to be together again as we begin the next stage of our exploration of this fantastic country.

Others have posted on the kid’s experiences at SEES, and I know some of the kids have posted their own reflections on the week past. But as parents, we weren’t in the homes, eating the food, studying alongside our children. We managed to busy ourselves in other ways, and I’ve been asked to give some reflections on that part of the capstone experience.

I had the great personal honor to join Shali Bogavelli at SEES on the kids’ first day in school as representatives of our class, and of TIS, in presenting our school gift. It was great, as these kinds of things usually are. Kind and gracious administrators, generous hosts, the full deal. But the kids! Listen, if you haven’t been on the capstone experience, and you’re at all nervous about how the kids are going to acclimate in another country? Rest easy. Within about five seconds of the formal ceremony ending, the kids all but evaporated. Gone. Not even a wink and a nod to me and Shali. It was as if they lived there… and I don’t just mean in China, but in the school. It was quite as if they owned the place. 

There were a few bouts of illness. One of the kids had to do a night in our hotel with a fever (OK, it was my kid. He survived). There was some loneliness. But by day two, the waters were calm, the kids were comfortably and confidently in place, and the phones were quiet.

Being a parent on home stay week is hard. You want to call. You want to know what they’re up to. You want to meddle. You don’t do those things because you’ve been told time and again that it’s better for the kids if you keep quiet. In our case, many of the exchange parents are quite active on WeChat, forwarding photo after photo of our kids. They play, they study, mostly they eat. Depressingly, judging by the photos, they’re not having as difficult an adjustment period as we are. 

We occupied ourselves with exploration and tours. Because we were on our own, it’s tough to itemize our experiences. A group of us explored the wedding market, another the home of what appeared to be the mothership of all tchotchkes. We visited Xitang Watertown, a canal city thousands of years old full of wonderful shops, food, and location for that great Tom Cruise run at the end of Mission Impossible 3 … for movie nerds in our group, it was very cool.

We visited one of the most important Buddhist temple sites in China, the great Yin Ling Temple. The main Buddha in residence sits 57 feet tall from chair to the top of his head, covered in gold. It’s magnificent, made more beautiful as the chamber is tended by monks filling oil vessels and changing incense.

My wife went on the capstone trip to China with my older daughter a few years back. When she got home, I remember her talking about how close she felt to the other parents, how much she regretted not getting to know them earlier in our TIS career. I’d thought our class was pretty close… what did I know?

I get it now. After a week traveling with these people so far, I can tell you there isn’t a better group of talented, smart, funny, and deeply caring parents. They’re engaged, passionate, and curious. They’re explorers and adventurous eaters. They’re just the sort of people I’d be lucky to see my son grow up to emulate.

A few minutes ago, my son needed to figure out where the pool was. He picked up the phone, called the front desk, and solved his problem in Chinese, all on his own. Seems like a small thing, but what’s become clear to me this week is that this village we’ve created at TIS together has brought us to this very practical place in which these kids are, in a very real way, world citizens.

Today, I understand what that means.

So, today was indeed a travel day. Tomorrow we head out to see the great Terracotta Army after a good night of sleep. Now that we’re all back together, I’m sure we’ll have more photos and stories to share. Until then, thanks for keeping up!

– TIS Parent, Pete Wright

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