With limited communication and lots of gesturing, Saint Stephen's Episcopal School students shared a meal with their counterparts from the Guilin Dezhi Foreign Language school in China on Friday, the start of a weekend trip.
"It's a little difficult to talk, but it's fun," said Olivia Elisha, an eighth-grade student at Saint Stephen's.
Saint Stephen's Episcopal School hosted eight students and a handful of teachers from its sister school in Guilin, China. Students regularly share academic lessons with student in Guilin via Skype as part of its Global Education initiative, according to school officials, and this is the third or fourth time students from the school in China have come to Bradenton, officials said.
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The Global Education Initiative at Saint Stephen's has faculty and students connecting with 18 different countries and 21 different schools. This initiative is one of four all-school initiatives put in place by Jan Pullen eight years ago.
"The world is very small now," Pullen said, explaining the reasoning for implementing such a program. "It's important for them to understand the culture."
On Friday, the Chinese students worked with American counterparts, shadowing them for the academic day. Friday night, the students attended the pre-season football game together and Saturday, the whole group had a picnic on the beach, something many of the visiting students were looking forward to, said Saint Stephen's global studies director Jen Hambrick.
"We'll make sure they have plenty of sunscreen on," she said.
Hambrick and her husband visited China this summer and made sure to stop in at the school in Guilin, she said. Hambrick, who doesn't speak Mandarin, said the full immersion is one of the best ways for students to learn the language.
"That's how they're going to learn, being put in the situation," Hambrick said.
Wu Dongtao, the director of the Guilin Dezhi school, agreed with Hambrick. Dongtao, who spoke through a translator, said he hoped his students would be able to communicate better in a global world than he can.
Although the students struggled to communicate on Friday, many described the experience as fun and as a way to learn.
Eighth-grade student Kenmall Miller, who speaks no Chinese, said she had learned how to say, "Hello, how are you?" and also learned that students in China listen to similar types of music. The visit also encouraged Miller to travel.
"I really want to visit China now," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.