By Hannah Stoller
Pipeline Assistant Entertainment Editor
Come June or July, many teenagers pack their duffel bags, say goodbye to their families and board busses or planes to overnight camps. They spend weeks without parents, often experiencing a different way of life than the one at school or home.
This summer, several BCPS students will board a plane, also without family, and will participate in activities of a new culture. However, their six weeks in this place will undoubtedly be one of the most unique experiences that any American student could ever gain.
Jason Meeker (’14) and Ilona Nakshun (’14) were selected as Pikesville High School’s first students to participate in a Chinese Exchange Program. After completing a long application process involving interviews and recommendation letters, Jason and Ilona finally received the good news that they have been anticipating.
Following their AP exams in May, Jason and Ilona, accompanied by a PHS teacher, will fly to China and stay there until the middle of July. In addition, beginning in February, around three or four Chinese exchange students will stay with Pikesville families and learn in PHS classes for six weeks.
Two of the Chinese students will stay at Jason’s and Ilona’s houses, and when Jason and Ilona travel to China, they will stay with these Chinese students’ families.
“Being able to meet someone from a different culture will be eye opening to everyone. American and Chinese cultures are so different and this will be an interesting way to see into that society,” said Ms. Sarah O’Donnell, PHS Spanish teacher and the faculty member in charge of the program.
Ms. O’Donnell believes that in order to make the Chinese exchange students feel more comfortable, the Pikesville community should treat them like they would treat any other Pikesville residents.
“Pikesville students should keep in mind that the Chinese students may have different interests, but also should act toward them like they would act toward any of their American friends,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “Most of the Chinese students have spoken English for a while, so the communication shouldn’t be too hard.”
Both sets of exchange students, American and Chinese, will take regular classes during their time in each other’s country, but they will not be responsible for the material taught. When the students are not in school, their host families will work on introducing them to the respective cultures.
“They will do everything with the host families on the weekends,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “The Chinese students will also go on three or four field trips with the students who are hosting them. In the past, they have gone to New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., but I don’t know yet where they’ll go this year.”
Ms. O’Donnell predicted that Jason’s and Ilona’s experiences will be just as rewarding as the Chinese students’ experiences. However, she said that that they will most likely have a much harder time, as they have not been learning Mandarin for as long as the Chinese students have been learning English. While Jason agrees, he tries to focus more on the exciting aspects of the trip.
“I’m most looking forward to attending an actual Chinese high school for two months. Being able to be that involved in the culture and get accustomed to it is an unbelievable and unique opportunity,” Jason said. “It might be difficult to communicate because I only know beginners level Mandarin, but I think I’ll be able to get by.”
Ilona expressed that she has been looking for an opportunity like this for years. She has been learning Mandarin with a tutor since she was 13 years old, and she has always taken a special interest in China and its culture.
“I’ve wanted to go to China for a while now. I want to improve my Chinese and experience China in a different way than a tourist would,” Ilona said. “I’m really looking forward to taking classes there. I hear they offer unique classes like cooking, music and martial arts.”
Ms. O’Donnell said that when she and other Baltimore County Public School teachers chose students to participate in the program, they looked for ones who would benefit from the experience; Jason and Ilona seem to fit this description perfectly.
“I am planning on attending a four year university in China and maybe even pursuing a career there,” Jason revealed. “I feel that this experience will be tremendous in helping me prepare for that lifestyle.”