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The Nelson Mandela School (NMS) offers a unique social and learning opportunity to Abitur students going into the 11th grade. It encourages them to take a leave of absence during that school year to study for either one semester or the entire school year in another country and thereby have a learning experience in a different cultural and language setting.

Joshua Heide was one such student who chose to go to China. Having lived in both the U.S. and Germany and traveled extensively with his parents, who are journalists, throughout Europe, Mexico and Costa Rica, he wanted the challenge to be exposed to an unfamiliar culture and language. Joshua had always been interested in China, though his overall knowledge of the country and its history was very limited. Previously, he had focused his interests on U.S. and European history and now wanted to learn about a different part of the world. And he was well aware of the growing emergence of China as an economic and political power as it was becoming increasingly more important in global issues such as commerce, international relations and the environment.

Before arriving in China, he took a 2-week crash course in Mandarin that emphasized basic verbs and vocabulary written in Latin characters. He went through American Field Services (AFS) which placed him in the city of Jo that has a population of 10 million people in the central province of Hunan and in a high school of 3,000 Chinese students. From the very start, everything about his experience in China was completely different from what he had known living previously in Germany and the U.S.

He was one of only three foreign students in the school and the three were quite a novelty among a student body comprised of children of migrant workers who came from rural areas and lived at the school. Joshua lived with a host family and his host parents were both teachers one of whom taught English. His daily school schedule comprised of a 2-hour Chinese language class and he was required to sit in on other classes taught in Chinese while he did his Mandarin language class homework assignments. The school day for his fellow Chinese students was very rigorous starting at 7:20 in the morning and ending at 8 in the evening with a 2 ½ hour break during the day. Because these students came from rural backgrounds, there was an intense ambition among them to succeed in school in order to qualify for a place at a university. As a result, students spent all their  evenings after classes ended doing homework late into the evening and would sleep on average for only 5 or 6 hours. Many students were so tired during the day that it was not uncommon to see them sleeping during classes with their eyes almost open as they rested their heads on their desks and the teachers didn’t seem to mind. Weekends were totally dedicated to doing school work which prevented Joshua from getting to know them better since they had no free time. He felt these students lived lives of total stress. From what Joshua gathered from his school experience, there was no culture of critical thinking, There was only one way to present certain subjects such as history or politics and it seemed students never challenged what was taught.

Looking back on his China experience, Joshua feels it made him more independent, self-reliant and flexible in encountering new and very different situations. In doing so, he had to be less shy, more self-confident, and have a lot of patience in adapting to circumstances totally unfamiliar to what he had ever experienced before and especially in acquiring his ability to be able to speak Mandarin. Joshua estimates that it took him 6 to 7 months before he felt comfortable enough to have a simple but completely understandable conversation with others and especially with his host parents in Mandarin.

Joshua is grateful for having had the experience and wholly encourages others to take advantage of a unique opportunity at a young age to explore a different part of the world. An opportunity that may not be available to do later in life. And he feels it could well be an experience that helps determine choices made later on when deciding on what to study and what to do after graduating from high school.

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20.01.2018 Nelson-Mandela-Schule · Staatliche Internationale Schule Berlin | Nelson Mandela School · State International School Berlin