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Building bridges to understanding

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — A 10-day visit at St. Columban School by a group of Chinese students proved to be a cultural exchange of both differences and similarities.

Fifteen students along with their teachers from Liuzhou, China, visited the parish school in Loveland from April 29 to May 9. The delegation helped build a bridge of understanding between two countries, school officials said.

On May 8 the Chinese students held a farewell program during which they recited Chinese poems, performed dances and sang songs. Some of the students played a piano solo of classical music, performed a flamenco dance and played a children’s game that included St. Columban students. Among the dignitaries who attended the program were Loveland Mayor Rob Weisgerber and State Representative Joe Uecker.

“We had minimal guidelines for the Chinese delegation. We hosted several field trips for them and asked the students to visit every classroom so every child could meet them,” said Mary Ann Ellerbrock, vice principal of St. Columban School.

Chinese students present a cultural program at St. Columban School in Loveland. (CT/E.L. Hubbard)

“Students were very curious and very excited by their presence even though there was a language barrier.”

The Chinese students spoke very little English, but that didn’t stop them from trading high-five with their St. Columban peers in appreciation of their talents as they completed one routine and prepared for the next.

“I like being here and helping the children grow into adults,” said Daniel Zeng, who is the group’s English teacher.

During the program, he expressed the visitors’ gratitude toward the students, the school and parents. He also extended an invitation to the St. Columban student body to visit his students in Liuzhou.

St. Columban participated as one of three schools to host a student group and their teachers from China at the invitation of Bob Herring, principal of Nativity School in Pleasant Ridge. The other schools to host a Chinese delegation are St. Margaret of York and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Cincinnati is a sister city to Liuzhou located in southern China. Nativity School has participated in student exchange programs since the 1980s, according to Ellerbrock. She said Herring thought it would be a good idea to involve other parish schools.

When St. Columban administrators heard schools were only needed to host students, they decided to get involved. Jo Rhoten, principal at St. Columban, said she was impressed by the bond that formed between families and the Chinese students in such a short amount of time.

“I think many good things happened because of the (cultural) exchange,” she said.
During their stay each student lived with a host family from the school. They visited some of the city’s attractions such as the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and the Cincinnati Museum Center.

“They bonded with our own community and host family,” Ellerbrock said. “New friendships were formed because of the new experience.”

Eleven-year-old Jiang “Lizzy” Jiabei said she enjoyed her stay and visiting the Newport Aquarium, playing soccer and shopping at the mall.

Jiabei stayed with St. Columban parent Carol Hall. Hall said her family decided to become a host family because she hopes someone would extend the same generosity to her children if they traveled abroad. Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, Hall said all children just want to make friends and get to know one another.

“(The Chinese delegation) was to share our cultures and experiences in America.

The Chinese students practiced their English,” Hall said. “We thought it would be a wonderful experience to be a host family. For a group of 11 and 12-year-olds to fly 12 hours around the world then leave their group to stay with a family who doesn’t speak their language, they are very brave. Within days, she became part of our family and our lives.”

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