Day 1: Hola Costa Rica!

We landed in San Jose, Costa Rica around 7:30 a.m. and were greeted by Carlos, Frank and Ruben, our local guides in Costa Rica. After a three-hour bus ride, we arrived at the beautiful Rio Mar Resort in Dominical. We dropped our bags and headed to the beach to cool off. When the second group of travelers arrived, we ate dinner together, cheered on the 49ers to the Super Bowl and ended the night with a salsa lesson from Carlos’ wife, Laura. The boys and girls are exhausted but looking forward working with children at the local elementary schools, touring Hacienda Baru via ziplines and horseback riding tomorrow. Pura Vida! You can view more photos of Day 1 here.

Days 5 and 6: Time for the Debate

Everything had been leading up to this moment. There are 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 with our previous teammates who knew all of our arguments. We tried our best, and in the end the other team totally killed it. In the end, Kentucky won, and our entire group was awarded the title of being the Champion Pool for having the highest points total. Having given debating my best shot, I know that I have new knowledge and confidence, and 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. -Madison Kwan, Grade 10

Day 4: Training for the Competition

This is the day we finally met the Chinese teams and were put into a larger competition group. Because of the food the night before and the day 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 about 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! -Eon Kounalakis, Grade 11

Day 3: What It's Like to Be a Student in China

Part 1: Going to School
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, 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 minutes). 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. -Eon Kounalakis, Grade 11

Part 2: University of Technology
In the afternoon, we took a trip to the University of Science and Technology, one of China’s top nine 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 peppers were in this ungodly array of spices. -Madison Kwan, Grade 10

Day 2: Pandas and 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. -Madison Kwan, Grade 10

Part 2: The Consulate
After we finished obsessing over the adorable pandas, we were brought from the zoo to the U.S. Consul General in Chengdu. 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 U.S. does in Chengdu and China as a whole, and what specifically, the role of the consulate is in Chengdu. It was super interesting how they 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. -Eon Kounalakis, Grade 11

Day 1: We Have Arrived in Chengdu!

Chengdu, 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. -Eon Kounalakis, Grade 11

Photo inside a Chinese restaurant with people eating.

China Trip: About

Sophomore Madison Kwan and junior Evangelos Kounalakis, along with their Mandarin teacher Hong Yao, were invited to participate in the 2019 China Chengdu-U.S. Sister Cities Youth Debate Challenge, taking place November 18–25, 2019. There were 24 American students participating from 12 cities. Teams traveled from San Francisco, Phoenix, Honolulu, Louisville, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Orlando and Pittsburgh. Convent & Stuart Hall won the Champion Pool Award along with two other American students and four Chinese students. The first place award went to the debaters from Phoenix.