By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
---- — LAPEL — Travel to exotic world locations to experience different cultures is on just about everyone's personal bucket list.
And a group of four Lapel High School students recently checked a big one off theirs.
Seniors Grant Kinney and Lauren Beeler, and freshmen Braxton Kemerly and Riley Gill just returned from a 10-day trip to China. where they participated in a program called "Global Student Leaders Summit: Social Responsibility in the New Global Economy."
The event was sponsored by Education First Education Tours. According to their group leader, Lapel English teacher, Jerry Kemerly, the four were the only Indiana high school students to participate in the program.
Kemerly has been leading seniors at Lapel High on trips to Europe — mostly England — for the past 18 years. But this opportunity to visit the Far East was a first, he said.
Although still a little bleary-eyed and suffering from jet lag after traveling halfway around the world, three of the four students took time out of class last week to talk about their experiences in Shanghai, Xi'an, and Beijing.
The working part of the students' China trip occurred in Shanghai, where they gathered with hundreds of other high school students from across America and around the world for two long days of learning about the global economy.
In addition to attending seminars led by experts, they also broke into teams to develop solutions to global economic challenges such as universal rights, education, the environment and health and safety, Grant said.
At the end of the summit, those solutions were showcased at an "Innovation Village," Lauren added, "and some of them were really cool."
"Honestly, I didn't know what to expect, and that was the really cool part to me," Braxton said of the experience. "I was just interested in learning about their culture."
Shanghai, with a population of 23 million, is the world's largest city. Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, it is both a world financial center and a leading shipping port.
Lauren said she didn't expect the country to be so modern and bustling. Shanghai "was definitely busy all the time," she said. "That city never slept."
"Where all the skyscrapers are, 20 years ago were rice paddies," Grant added.
From Shanghai, the students traveled to the city of Xi'an, one of the oldest in China. They visited the site of the The Terracotta Army, a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
Discovered in 1974, the huge complex, much of which is still being excavated, was apparently designed as a mausoleum to protect the emperor in the afterlife.
From Xi'an, the students traveled to Beijing, the Chinese capital, which Grant thinks best exemplified the contrast between traditional Chinese culture and the modern nation.
One of the group's most memorable experiences was eating dinner at a host home "hutong," they are small, traditional neighborhoods that are interconnected with one another by narrow streets and and alleys, "and are completely different from the rest of the city," according Lauren.
A large house in such a neighborhood would be about 1,500 square feet, Grant guessed. The host wife, however, managed to cook a meal for 36 hungry exchange students "in a kitchen about the size of a shoe closet. It's just interesting to see how people live on the other side of the planet. It makes you thankful," he added.
Throughout their journey, the students said they were conscious of being in the minority. But they said everyone they encountered was friendly. And curious. Many people wanted to take pictures with the American exchange students.
Grant, however, summed up their travel experience this way.
"I thought the best thing about this trip was actually getting to see things you've only read about in textbooks, and how much more grand they are in real life," he said.
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