From outward appearances, the contrast between the Lincoln High School students and their host students at a high school in the New Territories in Hong Kong couldn’t have been starker.
They lined up to greet the visitors from Tacoma on Sunday in their school uniforms, the girls in sailor-type attire with pleated white dresses that reached below their knees, white socks and black shoes. Some boys and girls wore Scout uniforms.
The Lincoln students dressed as typical U.S. teenagers in jeans and shirts, some bearing the name of their school.
But it didn’t take long before any perceived barriers broke down.
“Selfie, selfie,” some of the Hong Kong students requested, and the Lincoln students complied.
They exchanged Snapchat, Instagram and WeChat information, promising to keep in touch.
“They’re all very cute,” one Hong Kong girl gushed later about Lincoln’s boys.
Four male Lincoln students, in particular, soon became very popular, posing for what they estimated were at least 30 selfies.
“They were so excited to see us,” said Zavier Huebner. “They would turn their heads and giggle.” Others in his group were Caleb Ford, Brandin Porter and Michael Altop.
But while they enjoyed the attention, they also were impressed by the rigor of the school, Shun Tak Fraternal Association Yung Yau College in the New Territories in Hong Kong. Its diverse study body of more than 900 students has similarities to Lincoln’s, with about 70 percent of the students coming from low-income families. The school also receives government subsidies.
The school stresses studies in 3D computer animation, information and communication technology, and science. During Sunday’s visit, school officials touted the accomplishments of the students and school in various competitions.
“I feel like they take school here a lot more seriously than we are used to,” Huebner said.
School days are much longer at the Hong Kong school, and the use of social media is not allowed in class, Lincoln students said they were told.
“Their sports are like math fairs and science fairs,” Huebner said. “Our sports are like baseball and football.”
The visit was rescheduled for Sunday, because Monday is a holiday. About 150 Hong Kong students participated in welcoming the Tacoma students.
Patrick Erwin, Lincoln’s principal, said: “I thought it was incredibly helpful for our students to see how schools work in other parts of the world.”
Erwin said his students “saw some commonalities, but they also saw a high level of performance from kids who come from similar backgrounds. I think they’re excited that they are up to the challenge in a different way.”
Klarissa Lumsden, a Lincoln student, echoed her principal’s comments. “I think it was cool to see other people’s culture. It was a really welcoming school.”
The Lincoln students got a chance to play some unusual instruments at the school, including a plucked-string instrument with origins in the Middle East centuries ago.
They also tried unfamiliar cuisine, including taro sago in coconut milk, pork dumplings and an egg tart.
Near the end of the visit, a number of Lincoln’s students joined their hosts in singing “Do-Re-Mi” from the “Sound of Music,” which elicited hand-waving and clapping from the audience. They finished with “Auld Lang Syne,” then formed a line to wave and say goodbye to their new friends from Tacoma.
For some of the Hong Kong students, that wasn’t enough. Several of the girls boarded a bus to say one last goodbye.
Jonathan Nesvig, a former News Tribune reporter and copy editor, is traveling with the Lincoln High School students while they are in China. He will share updates throughout the trip.