Ten lucky students off to China

Updated: 2014-03-05 11:04

By Zhang Yang in New York and Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily USA)

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For underprivileged American students who have never left North America, traveling 7,000 miles from home may seem like a far-fetched dream. But 10 top students from Oakland, California learned on Tuesday that they will be going to China this summer for free.

Thanks to the Learning AFAR program, sponsored by ChinaTour.com and the AFAR Foundation in partnership with Global Explorers, the 10 students and two educators from Coliseum College Prep Academy will be sponsored to visit five iconic cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Hangzhou - and experience first-hand China's culture and history.

A total of 35 students from grades 8 to 11 submitted five essay questions and two teacher recommendations each to apply. Applicants were also required to demonstrate financial need, academic achievement and leadership potential, as well as lack of previous travel experience (students with no travel experience were given priority) to earn a place in the program, said Amy Boyle, assistant principal at Coliseum College Prep Academy.

"None of the students had previously visited China," Boyle said. "In fact no applicants have traveled outside of North America."

"I am more than happy to have been selected to attend China," said Tania Fernandez, a 10th-grader. "It is a pleasure for me because I have never traveled outside of the US. It is also a big opportunity because my mom is a single parent and she would have never been able to provide such a trip for me."

For all of the selected students, the next steps to prepare for the expedition are applying for passports and attending weekly classes to learn about China.

"They will learn some Chinese history and culture, as well as general guidelines for responsible global travel," said Boyle. "They will also participate in a full-day team building retreat and a pre-departure meeting this summer."

Learning AFAR grants international travel scholarships to underprivileged students who would otherwise not be able to explore the world.

"We believe that travel is the best form of education," said Jordan Robbins, director of scholarship programs at Global Explorers.

"It is vital for young people being prepared for their future in terms of understanding other cultures and having a greater awareness of our world.

"We work to partner with educators in low-income schools in the market we serve and most of our students have rarely left the neighborhood they come from, let alone their city or state," said Robbins.

The main goal of Learning AFAR, Robbins said, is to help underserved but outstanding young people better understand themselves and their place in the world, so ultimately they better understand their role as global citizens.

"If these students are tomorrow's leaders, we believe it is imperative for them to have a thorough understanding of China's rich cultural heritage and place as a leader in global development," she said. "This expedition is a foray into that understanding."

Since Learning AFAR's inception in September 2009, the AFAR Foundation, with nonprofit partner Global Explorers, has supported 271 students and educators in traveling to countries including Cambodia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru.

"Because of the support and sponsorship of ChinaTour.com, we were able to launch China as a destination for the first time," Robbins said.

"We are so grateful for ChinaTour.com's support because without them, we wouldn't be launching this opportunity in China."

As the sponsor of this year's China project, ChinaTour.com, a San Francisco-based travel agency that focuses on travel to China, will cover the majority of expenses.

"This is our first time doing this," said Alex Wang, president of ChinaTour.com. "As our business grows, we have been looking for opportunities to take part in cultural exchange projects for many years."

Founded in 2002, ChinaTour.com has successfully developed its business to mostly tour packages to China. It sent 20,000 clients to China in 2013, making it one of the top China-focused tour operators in the US.

ChinaTour.com's relationship with AFAR Foundation started when Wang met Joe Diaz, co-founder of AFAR magazine, during a travel meeting in San Francisco. "I learned then that AFAR did not have any destinations to China," Wang said. "I realized this was the ideal opportunity for us to cooperate."

Contact the writer at yangzhang@chinadailyusa.com.

 Ten lucky students off to China

Eight of the 10 students from Coliseum College Prep Academy who received letters of acceptance to participate in Learning AFAR's China trip program in which they'll visit five iconic cities in China this summer. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 03/05/2014 page2)