photo of students on a small boat in China

Journey to the East: feeling at home across the globe


This summer, 20 recent Eastside graduates embarked on an unforgettable adventure – a trip to China through our new Journey to the East program.

In addition to the trip itself, Journey to the East also included an educational program during the students’ senior year: they studied Mandarin, took a day trip to Chinatown, and attended monthly seminars taught by experts on Chinese history and culture.

“Even before they set foot in China, they had been enriched tremendously,” says Shaneka Julian, an Eastside faculty member and trip chaperone. Faculty advisor to the program, Jaya Subramanian, agrees, sharing that the curriculum included “the perfect blend of intellectual rigor and fun.”

For most of the students, this was their first time traveling overseas, and for some, it was their first time in an airplane, but their excitement propelled them through any pre-trip jitters. And before they knew it, they had landed in Shanghai, where they quickly dropped their luggage off at their hotel and then determinedly pushed through jet lag to enjoy their first activity: a dinner cruise along the scenic Huangpu River.

Over the next two weeks, the travelers eagerly embraced a wide variety of new experiences in Shanghai, Beijing, and surrounding areas, such as:

Climbing the towers in the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall
Exploring famous sites including the Yu Garden, Shanghai Museum, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, and the 798 Art District
Participating in a Peking opera workshop
Taking classes focused on calligraphy, tai chi, and folk art
Riding a high-speed train
Spending time teaching and playing with students at the Love and Hope Academy (a boarding school for the children of migrant workers)
Touring Fudan University campus and having dinner with students
Meeting a retired “barefoot doctor” (a woman who practiced Chinese medicine in a rural village) and a cricket-fighting expert
Trying new foods such as Peking duck and squirrelfish

“The Eastside students were so open,” says global educator Bill Kwong, who designed the program curriculum and led the trip itself. “Open to new ideas, open to interaction, open to trying new foods…this is one of the best groups, if not the best, I have ever traveled with.”

The admiration was mutual, with the Eastside travelers reflecting on how much they appreciated Bill’s knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm.

Although many of the experiences were unfamiliar, the students also noticed parallels between Chinese culture and their own cultures. As Jocelyn Urbina-Diaz says, “The developed areas in Shanghai reminded me of the busy streets of San Francisco, their restaurants of Chinese buffets in America, their traditional buildings of famous monuments, and their duck with flat bread reminded me of Mexican tacos.”

Similarly, Lupita Diaz shares, “A memory that will stick with me forever was watching the older Chinese women stand for hours outside their shops cooking zongzi [rice dumplings]. It reminded me of watching my family cook with the same passion and ease…It was beautiful to feel at home when I would watch them cook effortlessly.”

The students were also struck by the friendliness of the Chinese people everywhere they went – from the chatty strangers at the garden they visited in Suzhou to the children at the migrant school, who were so excited to play basketball with them despite the rain. Sarai Wagner recalls being greeted with “warmth, curiosity, and beautiful smiles” throughout the trip, and says she left China “with a new appreciation for how Chinese people often look out for others and make kindness a top priority in their everyday lives.”

The trip culminated with a homestay in Shanghai: each student was matched with a “buddy” from the Jinshan World Foreign Language School, and they spent three days going about daily life with these buddies and their host families. Jaya shares that the homestay experience was “definitely a highlight” for the students, as well as great practice navigating language barriers.

“During the homestay with my buddy Daphne and her family, I could call upon all the skills I had learned through interacting with the local people,” says Lupita. “Whether it was through universal signs, like a thumbs up or a smile, it made the differences feel smaller.”

“Although I didn’t always understand everything my homestay family said (and vice versa), we still shared many of the same interests: music, movies, and card games,” says Chris Guerrero. “But, most of all, it was our humanity that connected us…at our core, there are more similarities than meet the eye.”

Bill notes that “there were tears” at the farewell gathering that marked the conclusion of the homestay, as Eastside students spoke about their gratitude for the people who had welcomed them into their lives and treated them as family.

And after the Eastside group headed to the airport and boarded their return flight, they had more time to reflect on all they appreciated about the trip. As Juan Carlos Macias wrote, “I’m very grateful that I was given this opportunity to see the beauty of China in person and the chance to learn about its incredible history and culture…I will never forget my first time in this amazing country, and I know for a fact that it will not be my last.”

With Gratitude

We’re very grateful to DL Holdings and the CJSE Family Foundation for supporting the Journey to the East program. We also want to thank Bill Kwong for planning such an amazing experience; all of the experts, educators, and tour guides who shared their knowledge and perspectives; and the people of China who so graciously welcomed our students into their country, their homes, and their hearts.

Eastside admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. Eastside does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of our educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs.