From Brandi -

What an incredible experience! Every day in China was full of learning. From host families and school, to the Temple of Heaven, local markets, The Silk Museum, climbing The Grear Wall, & chatting with local kite fliers in the park, I can't express in words how proud I am of our TIS kids. They have truly impressed me every step of the way. As parents, this is what we have been waiting for. Way to go TIS 5th graders!!!!

Making friends ...

Every place my daughter goes, she makes friends. The reoccurring theme is: - She is so beautiful – Her Chinese is like she lives here. Of course this makes Dad proud. But for my daughter it has had a profound effect on her self-esteem. I’m watching her emerge as a grown up person. Last night she told me, “Dad, tomorrow at school I’ll be fine, but I worry about you in the city without speaking Chinese….”. She’s learning about honor, and respect and culture. She’s living these things in a foreign country. Here is a photo of Ms Amy, and her mother who flagged us down in the market. The mother has run a cashmere sweater shop for 25 years. Her daughter Amy speaks fluent English so it was fun to be able to participate in the conversation. The mom however is only Chinese. At the end of the 45 min talk, they asked to snap this photo with Kiana and insisted to give her their QQ and be friends. The mom said, my daughter's eyes are beautiful, and Chinese husband, “no problem!” haha.

A shadow day on her own ...

Going to be interesting from here on out: We have now separated from the tour group and are on our own. Relying much more heavily on Kiana’s Chinese ability. This morning we did a dry run on the school Kiana will attend on Friday. She’s set to do a shadow day with her pen-pal Brenda at the Sujhuo Experimentary Primary School. From the front gate it looks elite. I’m a little stressed because there are not chaperones, or any support from her schools faculty like at the last school she attend for a week. She literally is on her own among 3K students. She’ll arrive at 8am, be passed thru the heavy security and we will retrieve her at 430pm— long school day here.

We will take Brenda / her mother / and one of the teachers for dinner this evening. Her teacher Hong (from TIS) is excited about Kiana being a risk taker and has even checked in with me from Shanghai to make sure Kiana is up for this. Hong is a remarkable teacher that no longer works at TIS but has agreed to be a stand in for the tour part of this trip.

What it's like to chaperone ...

We arrived into X’ian late and got to the hotel and crashed. The prior day had been a flight out of Beijing. Traveling with 18 or so families makes for a slow go thru the airport scene. This morning we woke up early, and began our day in a new hotel that actually serves french toast and omelets.. yes! Don’t get me wrong, the food here has been amazing. But the western breakfast was appreciated :)

Today was my day to Chaperone the kids. I should explain that the way this whole trip is organized is that the students are largely separated from adults and siblings if they are on the trip. This means 2 motor coaches and tours etc. The students are immersed every place they go… Even on their bus, they are given presentations by their fellow students all in Chinese. Their teacher travels along side them and is constantly talking, presenting, and quizzing the students. It was a fun opportunity to ride in their bus and watch all of this in real time. It would be my day to provide security for the group as they moved through the city on foot today.

Our day started at a national museum of history. Security for the students proved difficult because it was dark inside and literally a 10,000 people all there to see the same artifacts. I think I aged about ten years trying to make sure no child got left behind. We would move from kiosk to kiosk and tried to have the adult chaperones literally block people away from our moving classroom. In China, people have very little sense of personal space and things can get very very tight, quickly. The Museum was amazing and the things to see were fascinating. I think I could have spent the entire day here.

After 3 hours at the museum we left for the old part of the X’ian city. It has a 70 foot high wall that is 7 miles around in a perfect square. We rented bikes and road the entire path. It is so beautiful here. Just stunning!

From the wall we went to to visit a Muslim Mosque, and the experience for the kids was amazing. They got to watch the 5pm chants and then were given an opportunity to have a 60 min Q/A session with one of the elders. And they spoke Chinese through the whole thing. After this we walked the local alleyway markets and the kids got to try their hand at bargaining with local merchants. Kiana got deals just because of her blue eyes and everyone wanted to take pictures with her. From there we went to a Muslim dinner and OMG it was spicy— loved it! Got back to the hotel room at 9pm and we all fell on our faces. From here we are off to see the Terra-cotta soldiers in the AM.

Talking with the locals ...

From Robert Woods: We visited the terracotta warrior dig on Monday morning.  It was really an interesting site.  Later, after lunch, the students went to a local park to interview local people regarding their exhibition topic.  Many also just had discussions with some of the local people.  Our students were invited to sit and talk at length and even invited to fly kites.  A really great thing to watch.

Incredible host family

We made a small deviation from the scheduled events tonight… The group had planned to say our goodbye at the school and then return by coach across town with our kids in tow. Then meet that night for a peiking duck dinner. Instead we opted to spend the evening with our host family and get to know them.
It turns out that the father is a PHD Professor Insect Ecology @ Beijing University located at the old Olympic village area. We visited his lab and realized he must be a high level guy because everywhere he went, the young “Phd candidates” all asked him questions to the point they followed us out into the parking lot. He kept waving them off. We toured the grounds and saw the Olympic gardens  - All super fun. After that we ate at an amazing restaurant and ate so much food that it was hard to walk.
In the end, we said our goodbyes and exchanged hugs and then taxi’d back across town. These days are extremely long for Kiana. She fell asleep as soon as the cab door closed. I’m very pleased how she conducted herself this week.


Farewell ceremony

It’s been an amazing week here in Beijing. This afternoon we are invited to the school to receive our kids back after their home stay portion of the trip. If someone were to tell me that my child would be transformed into a young adult by this experience, I wouldn’t understand them and what that really means. But watching this all unfold has been an amazing thing for the parents. Look at the photos you see here. These kids are becoming world citizens. They are enriched beyond my words can describe.

From Brian

As many know – the quality of air in China has not been the greatest. In the weeks before our arrival the level of pollutant in the air was at dangerous all time high levels. Luckily, we went from a 604 rating down to a 170 rating. It’s still not good.. but its manageable. Below is a photo of the students entering the Forbidden City.

From Kirsten (mom)

Tomorrow, several of us are taking cooking classes ( to learn how to make dumplings and some dimsum dishes, though a number of people were already treated to either a jiaozi/dumpling lesson or a welcome dinner on the first night of the homestay. Our family took us out for the local specialty Peking Duck on the first night and the two boys will have their own "private" dumpling lesson with grandma today after school as it is an early release day at 3:30.

Before we know it, we'll be picking our transformed children up from school on Friday and bidding farewell to their host siblings and families, off on the next part of the adventure; the part that requires no planning, no frantic cell number exchanges, just getting up and showing up as we are supposed to.

On the school and family front, our family is experiencing the "no-to-low news is good news" version of the week. I did finally get a call last night to say hello, but I think it was the host mom's doing way more than it was our son's request. He was ready to see me go on Sunday, ready to have his adventure with his new friend and family.

They live close to the school, which is a blessing as it doesn't mean waking earlier than at home, though bedtime is much later due to--you guessed it--homework. The kids are terribly tired overall, and faced with unusual foods, not to mention the exhausting true full-immersion in Chinese, all of which draws down the defenses to be sure. It is so clear however that, once they make it through, they will emerge different people. It will be a triumph, there's no doubt in my mind.