The 11-day trip of 97 students from Lincoln High School ended Monday with a visit from government officials instead of the hoped-for meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the students didn’t seem to mind.
Haley Naparan said she was a little disappointed, “but I didn’t need to meet him to feel all his gratitude for what he has done for us.” Judy Soeum said “meeting so many people is more fulfilling than meeting the president himself.”
After spending several days in Hong Kong, the students have been guests of the Chinese government the past week in a visit that took them to Fuzhou, Chengdu and Beijing.
At a closing ceremony Monday at the Ministry of Education, Lincoln Principal Patrick Erwin said it was a great honor to be the first school in the 67-year history of the People’s Republic of China to be invited by a Chinese leader to visit the nation.
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Xi invitedLincoln students to come to China at the government’s expense during a visit to the school last fall. It was hoped Xi would be able to meet with the American students, but his schedule didn’t permit it.
The trip opened up the world for his students, Erwin said.
“It exposed them to one of the world’s great cultures,” he said. “It freed them to think of a future outside the boundaries of our city. Now they understand what I mean when I encourage them to study in and seek opportunity in China, because I often say the future is in China.
His message wasn’t lost on his students.
“I think I need more exploring,” Naparan said. “I definitely want to come back.”
At the closing ceremony, Antonio Madrigal, who is blind in one eye and whose vision in the other is diminished from a virus, called the trip “a life-changing experience.”
Atop the Great Wall of China on Saturday, he made a decision to travel the world.
“I saw the view and I realized there’s way more to see than staying in the U.S.,” the junior said later.
Madrigal plans to take a gap year before college to travel, knowing he could lose his eyesight and not see anything if he waits too long.
Erwin said Lincoln “would like to be China’s school. Partner with us, exchange with us, learn from each other.”
Hui Qing Lin, deputy minister of the Ministry of Education, told the students that, according to an old Chinese saying, “to see once is better than to hear a hundred times.”
“The people-to-people exchange is exactly the approach to the communication between the peoples, and thus to enhance the mutual respect, understanding and friendship,” she said.
Hui urged the Lincoln students to share their experiences with others upon their return home to clear up misunderstandings about China. She also asked them to be unofficial cultural ambassadors between the two countries.
Kabastin Campbell, one of several students to speak, left no doubt he’ll be one.
“We were speechless and stunned by the very warm welcome we received” at the school in Fuzhou, he said. “We’d all love to go back there.”
“What I’ve gotten from this trip,” Sarah Ripley said, “is it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside, but on the inside we all have kind hearts.”
The students visited schools in all four cities on the trip, including Monday in Beijing, and instantly made friends. They already have been using various social media to communicate with them.
“We don’t speak the same, but we play all the same games,” said Rigel Adams, a sophomore. “We all text each other.” He said the trip has taught him we’re all the same.
The schools paired up students with those from Lincoln.
“It was emotional leaving your partner after becoming friends,” Desmond Ye said. He had an easier time communicating than others because his parents grew up in China, and he speaks his parents’ native language with his mother.
After the ceremony, the students let loose on at least one of their three buses. Naparan dialed up a couple of Usher songs on her cellphone and connected it to a bluetooth speaker. They turned on their phones’ flashlights, waving them back and forth as they joined in on the lyrics, first with “Confession” and then with “U Got It Bad.”
At dinner at their hotel, the students showed their gratitude to Erwin for his preparations for the trip over the past year in a toast from Alicia Dorman.
He had “worked insanely hard,” she said, “to make sure we have the trip of a lifetime.”
Jonathan Nesvig, a former News Tribune reporter, is traveling with the Lincoln High School students in China.
The Lincoln High School students fly home from Beijing on Tuesday — designated the “Kung Fu Panda” — arriving late morning at Sea-Tac Airport.