Day 5 and 6: The day of the DEBATE!

Everything had been leading up to this moment! There were no words to describe how anxious I was. We were supposed to arrive at nine, so we had plenty of time to snap
pictures and chat a little bit with our new friends, but the suspense just kept on fueling my anxiety. For the first round of debates the four teams in our group would go one at a time, and thankfully me and Eon were second and were able to practice with team Kentucky. I don’t know about Eon, but personally I was freezing my butt off, seriously regretting having worn a pencil skirt!!! Each round was around an hour which just barely gave us enough time to gather our notes and center ourselves. The debate ACTUALLY went pretty smoothly with minimal hiccups. I expected us to lose from the very beginning so I was even more shocked to learn that we had WON our first round! The next round was not as easy, seeing as we had the highest scoring team in our pool as our competitors. This was also the elimination round where once you mess up, you’re out. The worst part was that we were paired up with our previous teammates who knew all of our arguments!!!We tried our best and in the end the other team totally killed it. Secretly, I was so glad we lost so wouldn’t have to debate again. In the end, Kentucky won and our entire group was awarded the title of being the Champion pool for having the highest points scored. Having given debating my best shot I know I have new knowledge and confidence, and also have a new appreciation for debaters. I had so much fun and the entire trip was such a great opportunity, there are no words to describe how AMAZING this journey was.

Day 4: The day of the competition training

The day we would finally meet the Chinese teams and finally be put into a larger competition group. Because of the food the night before, and theday ahead of us: saying that butterflies were in my stomach would be an understatement. When we got to the location, Madi and I thought that we could hide in the back of the room and avoid
social interaction… How wrong we were. When we arrived at the facility, we were told to prepare a small statement for who we were, why we were in Cheng Du, and a special skill that we had. Now, unbeknownst to us, we were the only American team that could speak Chinese, and when we got up to the podium and started giving our statement, a gasp from all the students and faculty could be heard. We were giving our statement in Chinese! The rest of the day went really smoothly after that, and we could tell that the group that we were put with was really smart and qualified, in fact, the next day the teams in our pool actually won all their debates (including us) and we became the Champion Pool!

Day 3: What it's like to be a student in China

Part 1
We were given an opportunity to visit a local school in Chengdu and see what it’s like to be a student in China. Just like all the students, we started our morning with exercise or also known as 早操(zao cao). All the kids were lined up like little soldiers mirroring each other exactly while we looked like wild animals randomly kicking and flailing our arms. To top it off we had to run in a loop to the end of the field and back for what felt like an eternity(10 min). The morning exercise was followed by a music class where we were able to observe a 古筝(gu zheng) performance, given to us by the many talented students at the school. We also observed the 堂鼓(tang gu), or traditional Chinese drum and the rarest instrument of all: the piano. The day was really fun and interacting with the students was a kind of reality check for us Americans.

Part 2: University of Technology
In the afternoon we took a trip to the University of Science and Technology, one of China’s top 9 schools in the country. There, we got to see a beautiful campus and library as well as their avionics and aerospace facility. I was super excited to get back that night however, because my host family was going to teach me how to cook traditional Si Chuan (四川) food. We ended up making some of the spiciest food that has ever entered my mouth. The dish was called 麻辣烫, or numb spicy soup. I want to attach a photo to this post just so you, the reader, can see how many dang peppers were in this ungodly array of spice. The next day was brutal.

Day 2: PANDAS! & The Consulate

Part 1: PANDAS!
We saw pandas today, awesome, cute, and fascinating PANDAS. On our drive over, we learned the meaning behind the Chinese word for panda bear, or, 熊猫 (Xiong Mao). The word for panda bear in Chinese roughly translates to ‘Bear Cat’ in English. Because they kind of look like bears and kind of look like cats. Anyways, a picture is worth a thousand words, so attached are photos of the cute bear cats.

Part 2: The Consulate
After we finished obsessing over the adorable animals Pandas, we were brought from the zoo to the US Consul General in Cheng Du. After a 20 minute wait with Chinese security outside, we were permitted entry to the consulate (领事馆). We sat down and were given a interesting presentation on what the US does in Cheng Du and China as a whole, and what specifically, was the role of the consulate in Cheng Du. It was super interesting how they would deal with things such as religious freedom and human rights, and just getting to hear about how it’s done firsthand was an incredibly cool and unique experience.

Day 1: We have arrived in Cheng Du!

Where pandas live and the food is so spicy that no amount of milk can fix the irreparable damage to your taste buds. Madison and I were picked up by our host family when we got to the airport. I don’t know about Madison, but my family’s Sichuan dialect was so hard to understand that my sleep deprived brain only knew what they were saying half the time. For dinner I was fed some really great 水饺(shui jiao) or water dumplings in English. I can’t wait to see the pandas tomorrow.

Photo inside a Chinese restaurant with people eating.

China Trip: About

High school students Madison Kwan, Evangelos Kounalakis and Mandarin teacher Yao were invited to participate in the 2019 China Chengdu-U.S. Sister Cities Youth Debate Challenge taking place November 18th to 25th, 2019. 24 Chinese students were chosen from more than thousand debaters. There were 24 American students from 12 cities. There were from San Francisco, Phoenix, Honolulu, Louisville, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Orlando, Pittsburgh. Our students won Champion Pool Award. The first place award went to the debaters from Phoenix. Our school, Stuart Hall and Convent of the Sacred Heart won Champion pool along with 2 other American students and 4 Chinese students. 

Day 7: What Costa Rica Has Taught Me

By Bella Wasserman, Grade 10
As the finals days approach, I have been reflecting on this Costa Rica trip. I have enjoyed bonding with my classmates as well as learning more about myself. When I went to the waterfall, I found bravery in myself as I was able to face my fears of heights as I jumped off the waterfall. In addition, visiting the school helped me develop a greater respect and gratitude for my life. I enjoyed talking to the kids because even though they did not have a lot of materials, they were happy. This showed me that relationships are more important than materials. 

A monkey on a quest for bananas.

By Eamonn Kenny, Grade 10
There are many takeaways you can have from a trip like Costa Rica. You can miss the luxury of your privileged life in San Francisco and spend the trip complaining about how much you miss home and how the beds aren’t as nice as you are used to. This kind of attitude towards Costa Rica is one that will not allow space for you to grow as a person and will not allow you to come back a better version of yourself. On the day to day activities, there were many opportunities to think of how you impact others and how they in turn impact you. On this trip I was able to see my friends as the people who they truly are, which strengthened my bonds with people, but also I came to realize that some people are not really who I thought them to be.

Your friends need to consist of people who emit positivity and are always there for you. They should not bring you down or throw you under the bus for the sake of a joke. This realization helped me to expand my friends and cut back on those who bring me down. The next major takeaway from Costa Rica is that your happiness is all a mindset and is dependent on who you are with. I am at my happiest when I make others laugh or smile. For me, the ability to make others happy is in everyone but some choose to not use it because it is far easier to be mean than positive. The world needs more people to be kind. We should not have to look for reasons to be happy, but instead be happy without reason. Be happy you are loved, be happy you live in a privileged family in a beautiful city, and be happy for your friends for they are what make you happy and you should make them happy. Costa Rica is a time for you to take a look at yourself and see the areas that you can grow in and be vulnerable in that growth, and come back a better and happier person.