Dancing, singing and classroom work greeted Nashville-area schoolchildren, parents and educators in China Monday as Middle Tennessee State University renewed its exchange with a top Chinese magnet school system.
The 36-member delegation, in the country for two weeks, will visit classrooms, will participate in enrichment activities and go with Chinese families for home visits as part of the reciprocal exchange with Dongcheng Educational Group.
It is the fourth trip led by MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and his wife, retired Murfreesboro City Schools teacher Elizabeth McPhee. Other such MTSU delegations visited China in 2012, 2014 and 2016, and Dongcheng students came to Murfreesboro in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
The delegation's students got to work in Dongcheng classrooms immediately after Monday morning's welcome ceremony. (See a short video recap of the ceremony at https://youtu.be/VQLtNoIrfOo.)
"One of the things we have to stress on every trip is that this is not a vacation," said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee. "While we want to make the trip meaningful for these families from a cultural perspective, this is a learning laboratory for all of us."
Dongcheng, an affiliate of Hangzhou Normal University, oversees a network of magnet-style schools in this eastern China region. The goal of the back-and-forth exchanges is to share best practices with educators on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Both MTSU and Hangzhou Normal are major comprehensive universities in their countries, but trace and honor their respective lineages as teacher schools.
Dongcheng President Zhang Lidong singled out first lady McPhee for her work to organize the classroom experiences for the children of both countries.
"We thank you, Mrs. McPhee, for your hard work in making this a meaningful experience for the children of both of our countries," he said
Deja Alexis Perry, a recent graduate of Riverdale High School in Murfreesboro, declared the trip "an unbelievable experience" after the first day. "Even though we are miles apart," she said, "I am quite surprised of the similarities between our two countries."
Said Deja's mother, Tina: "They have welcomed us with open arms."
MTSU's Confucius Institute, a joint effort between Hangzhou Normal and MTSU, oversees the annual exchange. Families paid their travel expenses to China, but most housing and travel costs were covered by the institute and Dongcheng.
Named for the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, the institute is sponsored by China's Education Ministry to promote Chinese language, history and culture through tours, exchanges and university partnerships. There are more than 440 institutes in 120 countries.
Under the leadership of Director Guanping Zheng, MTSU's institute has helped teach Chinese language and culture to more than 2,000 students in seven Tennessee counties. It also offers long-distance language training via satellite TV and the Internet.