It took more than 7,000 miles of travel, two flights and a school year of preparation for a group of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School students to make the journey to China for nine days in June.
But for many students, it was a price to pay to assuage their curiosity about Eastern culture. Their interest was fueled by the school’s newly established Matteo Ricci China club, which was launched this year to teach the students the basics of Chinese culture.
Adviser Charles Cleveland said the club was founded with the hope to begin to prepare students for the business opportunities that come with the country’s increasing prevalence in the global economy.
“With the Matteo Ricci China club, we have brought awareness to the students of a population that is the four times the size of the United States,” Cleveland said. “We are a global society and with China, we are talking about 1.6 billion souls to save, customers to sell to and businesses to gain. How could we not prepare our young men to be introduced to this other culture?”
Students also studied the 16th century Italian Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, who worked to bring Christianity to China. The club’s objectives were shaped by his mission to help the poor and explain Chinese culture to the Western world.
The year culminated with the trip, which brought 40 members to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai to apply what they had learned through club meetings. The social studies department’s Overseas Study Program (OSP) regularly takes students abroad each summer, but this is the first year the program expanded with a second summer trip to China.
“We have been taking students to travel to places through OSP since 1994, but this is the first year that the Matteo Ricci Club went to China,” Cleveland said. “We always wanted our students to be able to experience the places that they would learn about in their social studies textbook.”
Calligraphy classes, Peking duck dinner and a visit to the Great Wall were just a few of the activities on the compact schedule. Students also met with Belen Jesuit alumni who were either working or studying in China to get a better understanding of what it is like to live there.
For some students, the bustling cities were a lot to take in when compared with their South Florida hometowns.
“I was struck with how big the city was, the people and how they go about their lives,” said rising senior John Balloveras. “It was also interesting to see this traditional ancient architecture next to huge skyscrapers.”
John was also taken with the work ethic of the Chinese people.
“... it is really different the way the people live and talk and act around each other,” John said. “They are very hard working. It is a very fast-paced culture and everything is moving forward and there is not much looking back.”
Cleveland said the end of the trip was met by tears and speeches from students, grateful for the experience to gain a new perspective.
“It was just extremely rewarding for them to experience a culture that is diametrically different from their own and they found whatever preconceived notions they had before the trip went out the window as they met these kind, warm people there,” Cleveland said.