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Goodbye Woodbury, nǐ hǎo China

East Ridge High School junior Kunal Thakur will be leaving Aug. 20 to spend a year abroad in China where he will attend a Chinese high school and stay with a host family through the AFS-USA organization. Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith.

For any high school student, studying chemistry and math can be difficult enough.

But what about learning those subjects in a foreign language?

That's exactly what East Ridge High School junior Kunal Thakur will be doing this fall when he spends a year in Lanzhou, China, where he will attend a Chinese high school.

"I feel like it's a good cultural experience," Thakur said.

Thakur will be traveling abroad thanks to the AFS-USA organization, a nonprofit international exchange program.

Thakur leaves Aug. 20 and returns in June 2014.

Experiencing China

Studying abroad was something Thakur said he has wanted to do for a long time.

He said he selected China as his country of choice because he has been studying the language for more than three years.

"I thought it would be a good business language," he said.

While in China, Thakur will be staying with a host family, which has a daughter who is close to his age.

Thakur will be attending school at the Northwest Normal University, which houses a high school on its campus.

Thakur's school day will be split up between morning Chinese language classes and afternoon math, science and other subject areas, which will all be taught in Chinese.

The Chinese school day is from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a two hour break in the afternoon.

Thakur said the biggest difference for him in terms of school, besides the longer school days, will be the fact that he has to wear a uniform.

Thakur said he has been preparing for his year in China by reviewing the Chinese language and watching videos of life there.

"I feel like I've been there already," he said. "I'm excited about being engrossed in the culture."

Thakur said he isn't too worried about adapting to life in China since he has several friends who are Chinese and he has a great love of Chinese food.

And in terms of packing, Thakur said he isn't nervous about forgetting anything.

"If I need something I can buy it in China," he said. "Everything is made in China."

Giving back

In addition to taking classes in China and experiencing the culture, Thakur said he would like to be able to give back while he is there.

For example, Thakur, who participates in competitive rowing, is currently talking with a boat manufacturing company about donating boats to his school in China in order to start a rowing club.

Additionally, Thakur said he is considering volunteering at a hospital during his time in China since his host mother is a doctor.

Thakur said he is also working with ERHS and his Chinese school about creating a sister-school program through the Confucius Institute of the University of Minnesota, which promotes study of Chinese language and culture throughout Minnesota.

Thakur said he is hoping to develop opportunities for his Chinese school and ERHS to Skype.

"I wanted to see if I could make a difference there," he said. "I'm fine just going to school, but I might as well try and make a difference in a different community."

Bringing lessons home

Thakur said he is hoping his experiences in China will not only help him in his classes once he comes back to East Ridge, but help him develop a better understanding of the world.

"I feel like students my age should really get out and get to know the world and get to know different people and get to know different cultures," he said. "The world will be more united as a whole."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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