Colchester High School science teacher Dustin “Dusty” Scheuch first visited China in 2002 to teach English. As a result of that experience, for the past six years—during the summer months when he’s not teaching science at CHS—he works with the Governor’s Institute on Asian Cultures (GIAC), which is cosponsored by the Asian Studies Outreach Program (ASOP) at the University of Vermont and the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont (GIV).
In this role, he takes students from all over Vermont to explore and experience all aspects of China—more than sixty students in six years!—and this summer, CHS junior Julia Bessy participated in this extraordinary opportunity.
This particular GIAC program, which has been in existence since 1996, is largely funded by the Freeman Foundation for the primary purpose of increasing Chinese-American relationships and understanding among high school students. Upon acceptance into this two-part program, students spend a week in a cultural immersion camp on the UVM campus. Throughout the school year, the students then earn an invitation to China by completing a major research project and presentation. Upon their return, students are expected to share their learning and experiences with the community—and they can earn college credits through their participation in the program.
During the two-week visit and under Mr. Scheuch’s tutelage, Julia traveled all over China. In Beijing, she visited many historical sites, such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall of China, and she learned lessons in bartering at the world-renowned Pearl Market.
“The Great Wall of China was one of my most memorable experiences from the trip; it is so iconic, and it has so much history behind it. It was incredible to get up there and walk around on something that is so ancient,” she said.
Julia and her group also visited southwestern China’s Yunnan Province to visit two cities that are known for their minority cultures. The first was Kunming, where students were able to spend time with Chinese students, learn about minority culture, and were invited to Chinese households for home-cooked dinners.
The second was Lijiang, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) world heritage city (meaning that it is considered a place of particular cultural or physical significance) in the foothills of the Himalayas, an area rich in beauty and culture. This was a great experience for Julia and her fellow students because they spent time in Chinese classrooms and also at a Naxi minority day care.
“In Lijiang, we went to a typical Chinese public high school, and it was completely different,” Julia said. “There was more poverty. It was a little shocking for me to see how those students learn; it is very intense. They go to school from seven in the morning until five or six at night, and they have a lot of pressure on them to pass each school year.”
“The fact that we were almost celebrities when we got there came as a complete surprise to me; people were always asking to take pictures of us. It was unusual to find out that we were extremely popular,” Julia said.
This opportunity through GIAC is open to any high school freshman or sophomore in the state of Vermont! A significant portion of the program’s cost is covered by a generous grant from the aforementioned Freeman Foundation, and in addition, there are also scholarships available. “I would recommend to any student that they should travel to such foreign countries in order to get them out of their comfort zone, experience the universals of culture, and gain an appreciation for what we have in our country,” Mr. Scheuch said. “The most gratifying part of my job is seeing how much kids change in the two weeks that they are in China. They come back with new friends, a much larger global perspective, and memories that last them a lifetime.”
And would Julia return to China given the opportunity? “I would go back in a heartbeat!” she declared. “And I definitely would recommend it to others; it was one of the best experiences of my life. It is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and to experience something completely new and different. And I appreciate what we have here in America so much more now.”
For more information, please contact Mr. Scheuch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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