In October, Matthew Trecek submitted his application to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. The agency sends students to foreign countries that speak the language the student is trying to keep speaking and learning. Little did he know that living for six weeks in Xiamen, China would change his perspective on Chinese culture.
“We were taught that China is a terrible place to live, but in actuality, it isn’t all that bad,” Trecek said. “The reason Chinese kids are labeled as the ‘smart’ kids is because if they don’t pass the Gao Kao test, they live a life where they work at maybe a small convenience store.”
For students in China, their senior year is dedicated to studying for the Gao Kao test. The Gao Kao is the equivalent of the ACT or SAT; however, the students are only allowed to take the exam once.
“[The kids’] parents put so much pressure on them to do so well on this test, but for good reason,” Trecek said. “The kids work so extremely hard, and I admire that about their culture so much.”
After traveling from Xiamen to Shanghai to Beijing, Trecek came home to a culture and a language he hadn’t seen since his passport was stamped.
“It took [Matthew] several weeks to get back on track,” Trecek’s mother Jan said. “School, friends and his responsibilities were a lot for him to soak in at once.”
Trecek claims that the way we live isn’t that much different than his life in Xiamen; however, a blend of the two cultures would make for a perfect world.
Click here to see Brooklyn Terrill’s interactive on Matthew’s Trip