Fourteen visitors from Shanghai were treated to a slice of Sonoma County life this week, spending five days at Slater Middle School capped by a raucous pep rally during which the students and teachers were made honorary Spartans, complete with hats.
"That is how the connection is made," Principal Jason Lea said. "I think it's a valuable thing. I would love to try to start making it a mutual exchange."
The seven-day visit is the third time in recent years that Slater Middle School and students' families have hosted visitors from the equivalent of a middle school in China.
Leanna Graves has twice hosted a student — first when her son Spenser Bushey, now a sophomore at Montgomery High School, played host and now as her daughter Malinda Bushey is in her seventh grade year at Slater.
"It's a really neat program for the kids," Graves said. "It's great for my kids, who don't have the opportunity to go to China and experience another culture."
The students have shadowed Slater students all week, some visiting Slater's first- and second-year Mandarin class, but also eating in the cafeteria, attending pep rallies and dances, and taking part in physical education classes.
"Baseball," Chinese student Yang "Jacky" Te answered when asked for one of the highlights of his stay. "I played in P.E. class. It's my first time playing."
Te also visited Barnes & Noble bookstore, picking up a copy of "The Dogs of Winter." Before arriving in Santa Rosa, the group went to Disneyland and while in Los Angeles Te bought himself a souvenir: Nike shoes.
Making his way across the Slater campus Friday afternoon, Te looked comfortable. One new classmate stopped a visitor to say: "Jacky, he's hella cool."
The kids all compared homework, noting with chagrin that much of the math looks the same, Graves said.
"It's the same stuff my daughter is doing," she said.
Graves said the whole family went to a Montgomery choir concert because both her daughter and their guest are into music.
"They were comparing songs and notes and things," she said.
Slater student Suhas Nagappala said his family bought a Chinese-English dictionary to help bridge any language gaps with Te. They also visited with neighbors who are originally from China.
Graves said her last exchange student was into email, but the student they will bid farewell to this <NO1><NO>morning expressed interest in communicating via postcards. It was then that Graves realized she's never posted something to China.
"We are going to have to find out," she said. "It's been an eye-opening experience."