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Beijing students sample North Pines culture, share pieces of their own

There was an international flavor at North Pines Middle School for a week recently when 10 students from Beijing visited classrooms and learned about American culture.

The students returned the favor at an assembly Monday in a presentation on Chinese culture that embraced topics as varied as food and Chinese opera.

Kit Zhang discussed the Chinese New Year and how it is celebrated, showing a picture of red packets that are exchanged. “We put lucky money in it,” he said. “We are all very happy to receive the red packet.”

The students, who attend the same school in Beijing, picked American first names for their weeklong trip. While in Spokane Valley, the students and their teacher stayed with host families and shadowed students during classes. “They just get a chance to absorb our culture,” said Principal Gordon Grassi. “Hopefully, it’s as rewarding for us as it is for them.”

The school has hosted foreign exchange students before, always Japanese students in the past. Grassi said participating in the program, run by Worldwide International Student Exchange, is a good way to expose local kids to other cultures.

Grassi said his students have been welcoming of the foreign students. “After day one, it’s just like another kid in the school,” he said. “It’s been fun. Our kids enjoy it.”

Eighth-grader Klaira Luna signed up to show Heidy Xu around for the week. “I just wanted to see what it would be like,” she said. “I’m really glad I got Heidy.”

Heidy, who has been studying English for years, said she liked trying foods such as pizza and hot dogs. “I like pasta best,” she said. “It’s great. It is a wonderful trip.”

Lily Fu, who spent the week shadowing Alex Barry, is on her first trip to America. Her host family took her to a volleyball game, and she spent some time at the mall. “It was really fun,” she said.

All parts of Chinese culture were on display at the assembly. The students talked about their school day, which starts at 7:40 a.m. and ends at 4:10 p.m.

Recordings of some Chinese songs were played, and the students sang another tune while two from their group accompanied them on piano and harmonica. There was time at the end for questions from the North Pines students, who had some difficulty being heard in the gym.

“You have to use your outside voice,” Grassi said. “Here’s the one time you can shout in the gym.”

Students asked about the importance of the dragon in Chinese culture, time zones and what kind of food the exchange students usually eat. There are a lot of vegetables, rice and pork on the menu in China, said teacher Zoe Wang. “It’s quite different.”

Grassi announced that the foreign students would be sent away with North Pines gifts, including pencils and mugs with the school name and logo. “North Pines Middle School will be known in Beijing,” he said as the students cheered.

Nina Culver can be reached at 927-2158 or via e-mail at