Chinese Capstone 2011 - Reflections from a TIS Parent

Where to begin? This trip is more than just a series of fortunate events. It is a cultural immersion, more so than you ever thought when you enrolled your little one. Eating dinner in people’s homes; playing basketball and skateboarding with the locals (kids, not decrepit parents); meeting icons (like one of the men who discovered the Terracotta soldiers); learning the history of the world.

It is exciting, you are in China, but it’s not a vacation. It is more of an exhalation, as you’ve been holding your breath and wondering if the time and treasure you’ve invested as parents is justified. It is.

We are traveling with our 7 prodigies, proud parents all, meandering through a world not of our creation and outside of our true understanding, yet and still grateful for the glimpse into the possibilities of a new and boundless future for our children. Some of the students are bold, some are tentative, but all are capable beyond our wildest preconceived notions of, for many of us, eight years ago when this journey began.

Those of you with multiple children at TIS, I can assure you this: you can never step into the same Capstone twice. Each is unique, with much to offer, so enjoy each for what it is. Four of my family accompanied me to this Capstone and it was at least as incredible as last time, with wonderful nuanced differences.

In fact, after traveling for over two weeks now with 7 TIS 5th graders, 3 current TIS siblings, 2 TIS Chinese track graduates (in total there were 13 kids and 14 parents), with all of our electronic and other detritus, a salient fact has emerged: we are incredibly fortunate.
The richness of the experience’s portent is unparalleled: temples, museums, a week in the learning crucible of a foreign school. Who would have guessed that my children (or me, for that matter) could relish a turn through a silk museum and silk factory almost as much as Chinese acrobats and motorcycles in a big metal ball? Or bok choi for breakfast instead of scrambled eggs or a Starbucks ham and cheese artisan sandwich or a bowl of Cheerios?

Our children, for their part, are generally nonplussed by the folderol surrounding them except, perhaps, during their school experience. Self conscious but still empowered, our children navigate their classes, teachers and classmates (and the occasional older kid teasing them about their Chinese) with ability. In a way, they have learned from their teachers that singular calm quality that continues to reveal itself on this journey.

Our class includes a shockingly light-haired blond boy; deeply dimpled cute Chinese girl; a rat-tailed, brown hair boy; a very blond haired girl; a black boy with short, short hair; a hat wearing Wushu practicing boy; and a precocious boy with so much hair he could be from the 60’s. I only share this demographic, particularly for you other parents of future Capstones, to remind you of how The International School Capstone trip looks to the residents of China we will be invading: we are different. You will be besieged (not usually in anything other than a nice, or comical, or simply human way) with those wanting to take pictures with you and your wonderful kids. Not a lot of blondes, or redheads, or black kids, or girls taller than the men here in China. Your Capstone will have almost all of that.

We cannot and shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that 8 years at our wonderful International School has made our kids native Chinese. It hasn’t and it won’t. It has made them aware, though, of so many things. It has made them aware of the power of a second language (as evidenced by their parents’ utter and abject dependence on them to navigate even the simplest things in China), aware that there is poverty and deprivation and challenges here that they do not have to overcome, aware that they have something that others do not possess: the facility to speak to about 20% of the folks on earth.

I hope it has made them aware of their responsibility.

During our current trip, in China, we have been tracking the sadnesses and misfortunes of their fellow students in the Japanese track as they dealt with the reality of tsunami, earthquakes and nuclear events. We have had discussions as parents, and sent notes to Alfonso Orsini, regarding the possibility of building in something on these trips that gives something back (a volunteering/service opportunity) to the cultures and countries that have done so much in the way of expanding our children’s world view. We have an opportunity to bridge our countries with these children, and we should be deliberate about that.

Click here for my day-by-day summary of what we did on the 2011 trip.
Click here for my suggestions for future Capstone families.

- MM