When Cait Gainey, 17, found out that she would be traveling to China this summer for six weeks to study the language and the culture, she could hardly wait to board the plane for the 18-hour flight to Shanghai. There was just one catch: Cait would be the only girl amidst a group of boys from the Landon School, an all-boys school in Bethesda, Md. “It was awkward at first,” admits Cait, a senior at Montgomery High School in Skillman. “But on the third day one kid talked to me and then the rest of them talked to me because they figured it was OK.”
Cait quickly learned to be more talkative and open if she was going to get the most out of her China adventure—Lesson 1 in a global summer excursion packed with new experiences. Cait spent the first two weeks with her group doing the tourist thing in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Xian. “My favorite tourist spot was the Terracotta Warriors (see box below),” says Cait. “History was right there in front of me.”
Then it was on to four weeks of studying, two in Beijing and two in Chengdu, where Cait lived with host families and spent four hours a day studying Chinese at foreign language schools. “I understand Chinese a lot better and comprehend what my teacher is saying,” says Cait, who takes Chinese at Montgomery High and is considering a career in international business.
Along the way, Cait learned the importance of respecting your elders in China, as well as the restrictions of a Communist country, like a ban on Facebook and little tolerance for the colorful lyrics of performers like Eminem. She also discovered that world travelers shouldn’t be picky eaters. “There are a lot of McDonald’s in China. I ate lots of chicken nuggets and fries for lunch,” says Cait, who couldn’t wait to eat a juicy steak when she got home to New Jersey. “In Chengdu my host family would make scallion pancakes, fried eggs, a bean drink and fried dough—really good breakfast that I loved to eat every morning.” She learned the hard way to avoid the spicy Korean food at the local “hot pot.”
Cait plans to spend more time in China during a semester in college, which she hopes will be at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She’ll be sure to return to the panda exhibit in Chengdu, where she spent 1,000 Yuan (about $150) to get her picture taken with a panda. Expensive? Yes. But, says Cait: “Totally worth it.”
They Made It Out of Clay
The Terracotta Warriors are rows of clay sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China. The figures, which include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians and date from 210 BC, were discovered by a Xian farmer in 1974 buried in three pits beneath the ground. While every soldier has a different face, they are all (nearly 8,000!) the same height, around 6 ft. 2 in.