From left, Mt. Blue students Michael Gurney, Sam Smith, Lexi Mittelstadt, Ryan Haszko, Noah Ward-Rubin, Lilly Kenney, Ashley Kenney and Ashlynn Pease enjoy beautiful weather on the Great Wall of China.

BEIJING, China — A group of students from Mt. Blue High School made the nearly 14-hour journey by plane to China as part of a cultural exchange program on April 12.

Earlier in the year, a group of Chinese students and their teacher-chaperones were hosted by MBHS and stayed with Farmington area families.

The MBHS trip to China had been in the works since last year when an earlier Chinese invitation had fallen through due to lack of advanced notice.

“We weren’t given a lot of time to even get passports when we were first invited to China,” said Ruth Haszko, a trip organizer and a French and Spanish language teacher at MBHS.

The trip was rescheduled to work better with the April vacation timeline. Haszko and her fellow teacher, Gail Carlson, were the two chaperones accompanying the eight participating students. Carlson teaches American Sign Language at MBHS.

For many of the students, this was their first time traveling outside the U.S. Housing during their nine-day trip was arranged by the teacher’s Chinese counterparts, with a combination of hotels for certain days and home stays with host families during the rest. Students did fundraising last fall and winter to help pay for the roundtrip flight, passport costs and visitor visa fees.

The students included Michael Gurney, sophomore; Ryan Haszko, sophomore; Ashley Kenney, sophomore; Lilly Kenney, sophomore; Lexi Mittelstadt, freshman; Ashlynn Pease, junior; Sam Smith, sophomore; and Noah Ward-Rubin, sophomore.

Highlights of the trip included a walk atop the Great Wall near Beijing and a visit to Tiananmen Square. From Beijing, the Mt. Blue group will travel to Hangzhou by high-speed rail — more commonly known as the “bullet train.”

In Hangzhou, the MBHS students and their chaperones stayed with host families and visited a local school. Hangzhou is the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, and includes West Lake, which has been a picturesque subject celebrated by poets and artists since the ninth century. West Lake encompasses islands (reachable by boat), temples, pavilions, gardens, arched bridges and the Leifeng Pagoda, a modern reconstruction of a structure built in 975 A.D.

After Hangzhou, the group traveled to Shanghai, on China’s central coast, to tour that city. Shanghai is China’s biggest city and a global financial hub. It includes a famed waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings as well as a futuristic skyline of 150 skyscrapers, including the Shanghai Tower, which stands at more 2,000 feet tall with the world’s highest observation deck.

Mt. Blue student Ryan Haszko poses with a guardian lion near an ornate Chinese temple in Beijing. Statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of palaces, tombs and temples since 206 B.C., and are said to have powerful mythic protective benefits.

Mt. Blue students Lilly Kenney, left, and Ashlynn Pease are all smiles after boarding the bus in Augusta before heading to Logan airport for the long flight to China. The Boston-Beijing flight was non-stop and traveled through the night over the Arctic Circle.


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