A South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education member called it an “an unforgettable experience” for a group of local teenagers who know how to make the best of spring break.
This one was full of adventure, excitement, learning and fun as the 29 South Pasadena High School students traveled abroad for a nine-day getaway to China. The trip was sponsored by the South Pasadena Chinese American Club and hosted by a top achieving high school in Nanjing, China.
Joining the students were four chaperones Yuki Cutcheon, Grace Wu, SPHS Mandarin teacher Melissa Chang, and school board member Jon Primuth, who came up with the concept.
“Early last year, as the school board was dealing with some issues with Mandarin language program at the high school, I decided we needed to have a student language and culture immersion trip to China,” explained Primuth, the brainchild behind it all. “In my experience, there’s nothing that sparks curiosity and learning more than language immersion. I cannot believe how lucky I was to find open doors and talented people to make this trip happen so quickly.”
To get the wheels in motion, Primuth reached out to Mandarin teacher, Melissa Cheng, who teaches in the local school district. “We found a China-side partner for the trip, an organization with lots of experience hosting student exchanges in China,” he explained. “I presented the proposed trip to the high school administration and the South Pasadena Chinese American Club. They were very excited to sponsor it.”
No longer just an idea, Primuth soon realized he had something in the making as the planning quickly took off, becoming a reality. SPCC contributed financially and took on the administrative role.
“The amazingly talented Yuki Cutcheon jumped in to organize all aspects of the trip,” praised Primuth, adding that four SPHS students –Charis Au, Ines Yang, Braden Wong, and Hanwul Choi – formed the high school chapter of the South Pasadena Chinese American Club, specifically to organize and support the trip.
While Cutcheon began putting plans in place, the high school students led the fundraising effort. Then, what Primuth calls a “critical fourth chaperone,” joined the team, as Wu, a nurse practitioner and South Pasadena High parent, declared her commitment. Not feeling well? Go to Wu.
Primuth called it “a trip of a lifetime” for many, noting the teens gained lasting friendships. Each of South Pasadena High’s students had individual four-day staying with a family overnight and eating dinner and breakfast while learning Chinese traditions.
“I wanted to show our students the importance of language and culture immersion to accelerate their learning,” Primuth said in why the trip was important. “Mandarin is hugely important in the world today, and it’s a fun language to learn. Being immersed in Chinese language and culture was of course disorienting and uncomfortable, but our students responded surprisingly well. It’s popular to say Americans are culturally insensitive. Actually, I found that was not true with our students.”
For Primuth, he’s had had contact with China going back to 1992, watching the country’s dramatic economic and social changes over the years. “Where there once were rice fields, there are now forests of modern office buildings, malls and subway lines,” he said. “Where there was once strict adherence to the official atheism of the government, and a shunning of religious traditions, there are now newly built stunningly beautiful religious sites dedicated to Buddhism and Confucianism, all sponsored by the communist-party led government.”
He also learned that “social control is tightly maintained with pervasive digital surveillance,” he said. “There are still many areas of concern regarding human rights and religious freedom.”