Palliser student gains inspiration and insight in Student Summer Camp in China

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John Ayon, second from right, poses with fellow Alberta students in China during the Student Summer Camp.

John Ayon lists a wristwatch as his most prized souvenir from China but the memories and lessons learned on the Student Summer Camp will remain long after that timepiece ticks its last tock.

When the Heritage Christian Academy student first heard about Alberta Education’s 10-day camp in Mile City, Yunnan Province he admits he was only looking for a little summer fun. Ayon got more than he bargained for.

“It was probably the best time I’ve ever had,” says the soft-spoken student, now in Grade 12 at the Palliser school in Calgary. “I was really glad I got to go. I learned more about China and more about the culture and I understand more about living there and how it’s different than living here.”

The summer camp sees Chinese and Alberta students visit each other’s countries on an alternating basis. The goal is to improve cultural understanding and cultivate international friendships in an effort to develop an international consciousness.

Ayon, who has had the opportunity for previous international travel through music and his church, says such first-hand experience is invaluable.

“You think you know from what you see on TV or read in books but when you are actually there,  it makes more sense and you understand more,” says the 17-year-old.

The trip included a tour of Qinglai School. While the boarding school which houses some 3,000 students and staff was closed for the summer, Ayon says it was very evident the value placed on education in China and how much work they put into their studies.

“It inspired me to work hard. It was like a reminder that you can’t just take life slowly and be nonchalant; that you have to work hard to succeed,” he says.

The experience also included some basic instruction in Mandarin, which Ayon had no previous knowledge of. He was impressed with his hosts’ efforts to speak English in their presence and the value of a second language wasn’t lost on him.

“When you are over there and don’t speak the language, you feel illiterate,” says Ayon, who vowed to start learning more French upon his return home, via an app on his cell phone.

He fondly recalls some of the sights including the Stone Forest, a notable set of limestone formations. The opportunity to visit with his host family for a day was the most memorable, however.

They exchanged gifts with Ayon offering chocolates and maple syrup and getting a puzzle in return. Although some took their visitors out to fancy restaurants and even a tour of the local cigarette factory, his hosts prepared a meal at home before taking him shopping. They were “super nice” and very welcoming.

Ayon has plenty of stories to tell about his summer adventure and opportunities to share them. Not only is he student council president at his school, he’s on the planning committee for Palliser Regional Schools’ second annual student leadership conference this fall.

Would he recommend the student summer camp if asked?

“For sure. I would tell them ‘sign up and take the opportunity because you might not get it again,’ ” says Ayon.

If the trip wasn’t enticement enough in itself, he says the chance to meet and travel with 19 other students from across Alberta was invaluable.

“I didn’t meet one person I didn’t like on the trip. A lot of us have kept in touch and are on Facebook. Everyone was really open and had the same mindset: it’s a 10-day trip so you might as well have fun and get to know each other right away,” says Ayon.

As for the watch ­– twice broken before he ever got it home – it will remain a special treasure, once repaired.

“It was a really big deal finding it. Whenever I look at my wrist, I will remember everything,” he says.

For more information on the Alberta-China partnership CLICK HERE