Brooke 4-H’ers offer memories of trip to China

CHINA VISITORS — Brooke County 4-H members, from left, Dante Johnson, McKenzie Cross and Mikayla Wood recently discussed their trip to China this summer through the West Virginia University Extension Service and displayed the variety of souvenirs they brought home. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — Teens in the Brooke County 4-H program experienced another culture and met teens not unlike them when they visited China this summer through the West Virginia University Extension Service.

McKenzie Cross, Dante Johnson and Mikayla Wood said their 10-day visit to China is something they will never forget, having seen a variety of sites and spent time a day with Chinese teens at their school.

“It was crazy. I’ve always wanted to go there. I really like meeting people from new places,” said Wood, who is 17.

“It was amazing,” said Johnson, also 17.

He noted the three and two other 4-H members from Fairmont and Morgantown and three adult WVU Extension agents embarked on a 13- hour flight from Washington, D.C., to reach Beijing, capital of the People’s Republic of China.

“I didn’t sleep the entire way there,” said Johnson.

While in China, the teens visited the Affiliated High School of Shanxi University, a public school with about 3,000 students, where each was paired with a Chinese student who gave them a tour of the five-story building.

Cross said the students used the English names they had adopted for their English classes, and two teachers from the school helped translate.

Johnson noted the school day runs from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, with the students gathering to exercise on a large field at the start of the day. Cross said the students live in dorms there on weekdays, often returning home on weekends.

She said the large school had an entire section for music, arts and sports, where they joined students in learning to play guitar and mold pottery.

Noting that soccer and basketball are popular sports in China, the 4-H members said they taught the Chinese students to play the basketball shooting game H.O.R.S.E.

Cross said during some social time, Chinese students enjoyed performing the song “Cups (When I’m Gone)” from “Pitch Perfect” using cups as the character portrayed by Anna Kendrick had done in that film.

“We got to hang out with them for a little while,” she said, adding, “They were kind of like us.”

Cross said while rules at the Chinese school were stricter — everyone wore a school jacket, for example — the teens could be laid back while interacting with them.

As they left the school, the students emerged from the building to say farewell.

The 4-H members rode one of China’s high speed bullet trains, capable of traveling at 186 miles per hour — for a three-hour trip to Taiyuan, the modern capital of the province of North China.

The teens also visited the following sites:

• The Great Wall of China. The teens said to reach the wall, visitors may take a cable car or hike, but the hike may take several hours, so they chose the cable car.

• The 3,000 year old city of Pinyao, which is surrounded by a 32 foot high wall for protection against invaders and was Johnson’s personal favorite among the sites they visited.

• China’s National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest because the structure’s steel lattice exterior resembles a bird’s nest. It was built for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, Johnson noted.

• Mount Wutai and its hanging Buddhist temple, which is suspended by wooden poles chiseled into cliffs more than 200 feet from the ground; and Yungang Grottoes, which are about 53 large caverns and more than 1,000 small ones, each containing a statue of Buddha.

The teens said they also learned of different eating customs at Chinese restaurants. For example, the Chinese prefer their drinking water hot because they believe it’s better for one’s digestive system, said Cross.

Wood noted the use of chopsticks in many restaurants though other utensils are available.

“I didn’t how to use them the first day, but by the last day, I knew how. You have to ask for a fork, and I didn’t want to be that person (to ask for one),” she said.

Cross said China has American fast food, including Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is very popular; and McDonald’s, which offers a variety of cookies and cakes for desserts in addition to its American menu items.

The three said WVU Extension officials advised they might draw stares from curious strangers, but they weren’t prepared for the celebrity treatment they received.

“We didn’t know people would ask us to pose for photos with them,” she said.

Cross said she assumed because she had blue hair at the time, she would draw the most attention. But the Chinese seemed drawn more to Johnson, perhaps because of his height; and Wood because she is a blonde.

Wood said a woman told her she was the first person with blond hair and blue eyes she had seen in person.

The teens said from the students they met at school to passersby on the street, the Chinese were very friendly.

Jason Rine, coordinator of he Brooke County 4-H program, said to help fund the trip, the teens held spaghetti dinners, pancake breakfasts and other fundraisers and received donations and support from the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, Family Roots Farm, Brooke County Federation of Democratic Women, Wellsburg Moose Lodge, Brooke Hills Park and many residents.

(Scott can be contacted at