AHS World Language Trips Promote Understanding and Cultural Appreciation

Arlington High School World Language teachers understand the importance of international trips to expose students to different cultures, languages, and traditions in order to help them develop a broader worldview and cultural understanding. AHS Mandarin Chinese teacher Xiaohui Cao says that ”The exposure fosters empathy, tolerance, and appreciation for diversity. It also challenges students to step out of their comfort zones, adapt to new environments, and overcome cultural barriers. This fosters resilience, independence, and self-confidence, empowering students to navigate diverse situations and become more adaptable individuals.” 

This year there were two opportunities for AHS students to experience different countries and try using the local languages. French students visited Québec City, Québec, Canada in February and Mandarin Chinese students traveled to Taiwan in April. 

Forty students in levels 3-5 of French joined Prof. Sean Em Rufo-Curran and six other faculty members for the trip to Québec City. The group traveled by bus, and spent their first afternoon touring Old Québec and the beautiful Château Frontenac hotel. Succeeding days included a trip to the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré which is one of the five national shrines of Canada, a ferry ride across the St. Lawrence River, a demonstration of repoussé work at a Copper Museum, and a multimedia exhibit that covered the battles of 1759 and 1760 on the Plaines d’Abraham. Since the trip took place in the winter, the travelers were able to take part in some of the ways the residents enjoy the season–ice skating, making maple syrup at a sugar shack, dog-sledding, and tobogganing in front of the Château Frontenac.

Sean reports that the students were happy with the itinerary and that they enjoyed getting to use French in a culturally-immersive environment. French student Miranda Harlow found the cultural elements very interesting and valued the information the tour guides shared. She loved going tobogganing and dog sledding and she felt that she was fully exposed to the language verbally and through reading. Miranda had visited Québec City previously and looks forward to going back as her French studies continue. Reflecting on the trip she says “I would recommend everyone step outside their comfort zones and try new things on a trip like this and remember it is ok to feel nervous when they do.”

The Québec trip was described as partially linguistic and fully culturally-immersive, and Sean, a linguist, comments that “...many people in New England, even non-French speakers, have this weird and trenchant cultural stereotype in mind that Québécois French is bastardized, bad, incorrect, or somehow “wrong” French. My classroom teaching includes direct topics pertaining to phonetics, accent and linguistic discrimination–la glottophobie in French, glottophobia in English. Our students know and learned that Québécois French is a major standardized and normative dialect of the language that has formal and informal registers and a deeply rich cultural tradition and heritage surrounding it.”

On April 11, 21 students joined Ms. Cao and chaperones for the school’s first trip to Taiwan. After getting situated in their Taipei hotel, the group enjoyed a dumpling lunch and then began to visit the city using public transportation. During the time they spent in Taipei the students were able to view a changing of the guards at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, spend time at the National Palace Museum and the Lungshan Temple, learn how the local people buy food at Nanmen Market, take part in a Street Food Cooking workshop, explore the Ningxia Night Market, and do some shopping. They took the train to Shifen to see the waterfalls and visited Sun Moon Lake where they toured a Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. 

A special part of the trip was the time the group spent in Taichung where the young people were paired with Chingsui Senior High School students, toured the school, attended classes, and participated in home stays. The group was welcomed by the school principal and dean in a formal ceremony where gifts were exchanged. Two of the chaperones, APS World Language Director Dawn Carney and APS Performing Art Director Jing-Huey Wei spoke to express their gratitude at being able to visit, and an AHS student leader spoke in Mandarin, sharing how excited they were to make new friends and see what a school day was like in Taiwan. The Taiwanese students and their teachers designed activities so the AHS students could experience more of the country's food, customs, and pop music.

Ms. Cao reports that the experience of the homestay “...transformed them from a regular tourist into a visitor who has a deeper connection and a relationship with local families by fully immersing them into the local life. This first-hand experience allowed them to engage in the local community on a personal level, gaining insights and deeper understandings of cultural practices and perspectives.” After the first night the feedback from the students was positive and Ms. Cao adds “It was heartening to see how this experience positively impacted both our students and the host students.” When the group left for home on April 19, everyone was sad to say goodbye.

The days spent in Taichung were special for another reason because this is the city where Ms. Wei grew up. This was the first time she had helped to organize a trip to Taiwan and she says that “...I was very proud to introduce Taiwan to AHS students!” She shares that the island of Taiwan is about the size of Massachusetts but contains almost 24 million people, and she hoped the travelers would see how people handle such a busy, crowded place. The subway system in Taipei, which the students used, has a no food policy and there is barely any trash. Passengers routinely line-up to allow effective exit and entrance when the subway train shows up. The travelers were also able to experience Taiwan’s very effective high speed rail system.

The Taiwanese are known for their openness to visitors, and Ms. Wei observed the AHS students being constantly greeted by people, asking where they were from, the purpose of the visit, how long they were staying, and if they liked Taiwan. She observed that some of these quick, random conversations were in English, but the students also had a chance to practice their conversation skills in Mandarin. Ms. Wei said that the food they shared was really delicious and she was “...particularly proud of our students for trying different dishes and practicing their Mandarin to ask what they were eating!”

Ms. Wei reports that the trip was wonderful and she shares: “Overall our students were amazing visitors. They were respectful, conscientious, cooperative, and kind with each other. When we visited the Taiwanese Legislative Hall, people commented on how respectful and polite our students are! I am very proud of them!”