Eudora students learn Asian culture from alumnus
Among the cultural cornerstones that set China apart from the United States, the one that stuck out the most to Eudora High School junior Steven Foster was an aspect to which many teenagers could probably relate.
"It's a delicacy to eat at McDonald's," said Foster, a member of the school's International Club, which had just heard a presentation about China, where the fast food giant is seen as the epitome of the American experience.
Eudora 1999 alumnus and world traveler Eric Garrett shared with students some of his experiences on a recent trip to China through the Kansas East Asia Scholar's Program, which operates on the premise that people in the Great Plains and Midwest know little about Asia and its business culture.
To some extent, that was true, said junior International Club member Ryan Hartford.
"I knew nothing about what (Garrett) was saying," he said. Garrett, however, had previously studied Asian cultures at Kansas University.
"It seemed the more I learned about China, the more complicated I realized the culture really was," he said.
Before participating in the program -- for which Garrett had to compete against other students and for which KU had to compete against other Big 12 schools -- the Spanish major's exposure to Chinese culture had been studying Confucius and other pillars of the civilization. Learning the culture from the ancient perspective only was sometimes frustrating.
"After going to China, you realize learning about Confuscius and that sort of thing is important, because their behavior and the way they see life is formed by those great thinkers in that time," he said.
As an example, Garrett told the International Club most people on the street walked quietly without drawing attention to themselves.
Bringing the experience home by educating others was a mandate of the program, said Garrett, who decided to share his knowledge with students.
"They're still young enough where they can make the decision to study more about China," he said.
When speaking to Eudora third-graders Thursday, Garrett said he would use pictures and try to stimulate their interest in China through tactile efforts rather than discussing gross domestic product and Mao. Yet Garrett said he was pleasantly surprised with the high school students' knowledge.
However much Garrett knew about China was reinforced and expanded during the trip. Experiences ranging from organized outings like visiting company headquarters and talking with government leaders to exploring sites like templesand other sites on his own increased his understanding of China, Garrett said.
"You can learn a lot in a classroom, but until you actually go to a place, that's where you learn," he said.
Owning K-10 Fireworks, Garrett said he was probably most interested in an excursion that took him to a fireworks factory.
"I've been familiar with them all my life, but to actually see the people sitting there making them... to me, that was the most incredible thing," he said.
Despite having visited 40 states and 17 countries, Garrett said he was surprised at what such a populated country actually looked like.
"I knew it was the most populated country, but you just cannot fathom how many people that is," he said.
Many consider Eudora, where Garrett had lived since third grade, a small town. In China a "small town" has five million or six million people. In larger, international cities like Shanghai, Garrett said he and his fellow American students didn't stand out as much, but in smaller places they were somewhat of an oddity.
"When people saw us, it was probably something they told their families about," he said. "Kids would point at us. Some people even took our pictures."
Before going to China, Garrett was home for a little more than a week after returning from Central America. Traveling among the countries, mostly alone, provided unique experiences, such as speaking with a Nicaraguan man, who showed Garrett his scars from one of that country's conflicts.
"When you're in a group of people you don't interact with the (native) people enough," he said. "Those are things you don't see in a tour group."
But Garrett was desperate to be part of a tour group as a teenager. As a beginning Spanish student at Eudora High School, he begged teacher Kim Lancaster to let him be part of the school's language trip, only open to more experienced Spanish speakers.
Ironically, Lancaster put Garrett in a class with third-and fourth-level students the following year. It's a situation Garrett still held against Lancaster, he said jokingly. However, Spanish was a class he's stuck with every semester since.
"I owe a lot of what I've done with it to her," he said. "It's all about your first couple of years of learning."
Exploring his options after graduation from KU this spring, Garrett said it looked like world travel was on hiatus.
"My major travels are over for the time being," he said. "But I know I'll go somewhere cool. There's always somewhere to go."