Journey to San Diego


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Recently, I visited Francis Parker School in San Diego with my classmate Tiffany and teacher Vivian Shen. This trip, which was the first time I travelled outside of Asia, was part of a student exchange programme. Parker is a long-established private school in an idyllic location by the ocean in San Diego. Everyone at Parker made me feel welcome; they were friendly and hospitable. During the trip, I experienced many new things and broadened my world view. I am thankful that Pao School gave me this opportunity to experience an entirely different culture from my own.


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The most memorable part of this trip for me was staying with my American host family, the Gardenswartzs. The Gardenswartzs is a Jewish family who lives in a lovely house on La Mesa hill. Mr. Gardenswartz is a well-known lawyer in San Diego. He is a humourous man who asks me a lot of questions about China. Mrs. Gardenswartz was and teacher a former principal in a Jewish day school. She now does housework and sometimes gives trainings to parents and teachers. Mr and Mrs Gardenswartz have three children: Their oldest son Jacob is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania; their daughter Sofia (with whom I spent most of my time) is a junior at Parker, and their youngest child Ryan attends Waldorf, who shares a lot of common interests with me (such as piano, chess and flute). Both parents treat their children well.


 Sofia and her older brother both have their own non-profit organisation, developed with the assistance of their parents. During the fall break, Jacob came home to run an activity for his non-profit, Impact on Stage, and I attended one of their meetings. Impact is a special theatre that performs at educational institutions and workplaces in San Diego to raise awareness of bullying. In this organisation, Jacob combines his passions for drama and community service. He writes all of the plays and directs them. 


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At the meeting I attended, participants discussed how to raise public awareness about discrimination against transgender people, a problem I had not previously thought about. I was impressed with their intelligent discussion. It made me realise that in our daily life, we spend a lot of our free time hanging out with friends, shopping or studying in cram schools. How many of us use our free time to do something beneficial for society?


The Gardenswartz family is part of a friendly Jewish community in San Diego. During my visit, they celebrated two Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year)and Yom Kippur (the holiest day of the year in Judaism). The family took me to a synagogue and I participated in all of their rituals and services, (except fasting), and gained a vivid impression of Judaism. The Friday supper is called Shabbat, during which all family members gather and pray together before eating dinner. Men wear kippah (a brimless cap), and women sing Hebrew prayers and kiss every member of the family. 


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The night before I left, I cooked them a Chinese Shabbat, with scrambled eggs and tomatoes, Coca-Cola chicken wings, stir-fried potato strips and stir-fried beef with onions. They loved the meal and we all hugged each other after we finished eating. Looking back, we really built a strong friendship in just two weeks. 


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The most important part of the trip was attending school at Parker. There are 8 class periods everyday. Unlike at Pao School, students at Parker normally only take 6 to 7 classes each day, with one free period to do homework in the library or something else. I took AP Art History, Global History, English, Creative Writing, Instrument Ensemble, Journalism and AP Biology. I enjoyed most of the classes, especially the humanities courses. I was amazed at the maturity of American students’ thinking. The classroom environment at Parker is dynamic; discussion is open. Students proactively answer questions and are eager to express their ideas. They are unafraid of responding to a question even if their answers may be wrong. Compared to most Chinese students, American students may seem more individualistic and less respectful to their teachers, but they’re really more creative and disciplined when they need to study outside of the classroom or participate in student-run activities. 


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Almost all students in Parker are very enthusiastic people. They value the process more than the outcome, and show dedication in their endeavours. They rarely insist on getting something right the first time instead they focus on how much you can learn and enjoy.


My experience at Parker made think about areas in which I can improve. I realise now that it’s important to have goals in life, which can start small when we are young, and gradually grow more ambitious as we mature. We should think about what type of person we want to be and work towards that. I also realised during my visit that it’s important to read as much as possible – even when it is not for a classroom assignment. I was amazed at the number of books there were in the Gardenswartz home and every single classroom at Parker. Reading not only makes us more knowledgeable; it helps our imaginations to grow and make our lives richer. 


Finally, I am grateful to Pao School for offering me this opportunity to be an exchange student. Although the two weeks passed quickly, I gained a great deal from the experience: knowledge of a different culture and strong friendships with my host family and other people I met during the trip, and with whom I am staying in touch. I highly recommend younger Pao students apply to this student exchange programme.