Two local teens heading to China
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School rising juniors Nate Wulfman and Micah Lynch are packing their bags and preparing to jet to China next week for what for both will be a first ever trip to Asia.
Part of a six-student team that draws from high schools across the state, Wulfman and Lynch will explore southern China for 20 days as participants in Green Across the Pacific’s (GATP) Chinese-American Environmental Youth Leadership Program.
Since 1995, GATP, a Shoreham-based nonprofit, has facilitated an environmentally focused student exchange between China’s Guangdong province — popularly known as Canton — and Vermont.
GATP Executive Director Peter Lynch of Shoreham and Ned Swanberg from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will lead the Vermont students, with help from Chinese counterparts, through Hong Kong, Guangdong province and Hainan province.
On July 6, the team will arrive in Hong Kong and head to the southern side of Lantau Island — the largest of the Hong Kong islands situated at the mouth of the legendary Pearl River. There they will spend two days and have a chance to explore the ultra-modern Hong Kong Island, where towering structures designed by architectural masterminds such as I.M. Pei and Norman Foster graze the horizon.
The group will then jump on board a high-speed train and zip north to the traditional trading hub and bustling metropolis of Guangzhou — the largest and capital city of Guangdong. Wulfman, Lynch and company will spend a week in Guangzhou staying with a local family.
For this stretch of the trip, the GATP group will team up with a Guangzhou high school that the organization has long collaborated with, known as the Affiliated High School of South China Normal University. While staying in Guangzhou, the students will have the opportunity to visit factories, nearby environmental preservation lands, national history museums and a research facility that is investigating the chemical science behind traditional Chinese medicine.
“They’re isolating compounds within traditional medicinal plants,” said Peter Lynch. “It’s a pretty cool idea … can you get traditional Chinese medicine and western science to align?”
The Chinese and Vermont students will then take a bus together down to the southern-most Chinese province of Hainan. Literally translated as “south of the sea,” many Chinese people refer to Hainan as China’s Hawaii.
Here students will have an opportunity to explore tropical jungles and learn about indigenous minority cultures.
“It’s biologically unique, it’s truly tropical and it’s home to endemic species like the Hainan hare,” Lynch said.
After a week in Hainan the students will head back to Hong Kong for two days of free time and decompression.
But while they’re in Mainland China — Hong Kong is not considered Mainland China and operates under a separate government — the GATP team will be subjected to the whims of Chinese planning, which is very different from the American method.
Many of the fine details surrounding their trip have yet to be ironed out and may very well never be set in stone. Planning isn’t as long-range and concrete in China as it is in the U.S. It’s a country where high school students typically don’t know when their summer break is until the week before or, in some cases, as short notice as one day before.
This facet of Chinese life, Lynch pointed out, is all part of the experience.
The Vermont students will also have a particular focus as they explore environmental issues.
Micah Lynch, who is Peter’s son, said he will look at how Chinese art has shaped environmental perception in China and Wulfman said he will try to better understand how different countries and cultures are dealing with environmental degradation.
For both Wulfman and Lynch the most important part of the whole trip isn’t their focus of inquiry, but rather expanding their understanding of a different culture and making friends in a far-off land.
“The friendship part is huge,” said Peter Lynch. “The students will often say that in the end the cultural exchange really is powerful. Finding out that we can form strong friendships across some real cultural distance is one of the things that keeps me going. It’s really exciting to see that happen.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].