by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- "The trip to China was really exciting," enthused 17-year-old American high school student Charlie Faragher. "We made a lot of new friends in Chengdu."
Faragher and a lucky group of 17 other students, all top young musicians from Los Angeles Alexander Hamilton High School's renowned music department, have just returned from China where they participated in the 2018 Chengdu International Sister Cities Youth Music Festival, an event established to promote international friendship and exchanges by providing a platform for young artists and musicians to showcase their talent.
"It was just too good an opportunity to pass up," said his dad, Davey Faragher. "It was a great experience for him - I mean, how often does anyone get to go to China?"
The delighted student travelers were welcomed back Saturday with a warm reception in their honor at the residence of Chinese Consul General in Los Angeles.
Consul General Zhang Ping treated the students, parents, school officials and other guests to a delicious Chinese gourmet lunch.
"Welcome to my residence," said Zhang. "I'm pleased you are here today bringing good news about your trip to China. It was a wonderful, fun experience of learning and a major cultural exchange event of great significance," the Consul General told his student guests.
Trombone student Eli Howell said, "We didn't believe it when our teacher told us, 'I'm taking you all to China!'"
Eli's dad Bill Howell said, "Hamilton's music program is extraordinary - the best in Los Angeles. My son was excited to go. We were a little nervous, but we trusted they'd be well taken care of."
While in China, the Hamilton students met and performed with other talented young musicians from all over the world, united by a shared love of music. Their trip to Chengdu and Shanghai opened their eyes to a wider world in a way they had never experienced before.
One of the young musicians, Kelsey Kelly, a 16-year-old trumpet player, told Xinhua that her favorite part of the trip, aside from the great food, was visiting ancient cities and being immersed in the culture. "We saw Chinese devotion in their temples. That was an eye-opening experience I'd never get in LA."
"We met cool guys from China, Austria, Germany, Israel, Argentina - some of us even played soccer with some guys from Mexico," enthused Ronnie Heard, another returning student.
Another student, Eddie Sarabia, told Xinhua, "I was pretty nervous about going, cuz our media portrays China in such a strange way. But when we got there, we got to see the real China. Everyone was so welcoming and kind. It was a great experience."
The program is a successful joint operation, co-sponsored by China General Chamber of Commerce in LA, Hainan Airlines, Greenland Hotels, and others, and implemented by the Sister Cities of Los Angeles organization.
The Sister Cities of Los Angeles (SCOLA) is a diplomatic platform for the City of Los Angeles that seeks to promote cooperation and direct engagement with its global partners on issues of mutual interest, particularly around business and commerce, tourism, education, and culture.
Between rousing musical performances by many of the talented students, Fabiola Vilchez, president and executive director of SCOLA, told the assembled parents and their beaming kids, "We'd like to thank the parents for trusting us to take their kids to China. The opportunity was just incredible - life changing - not just for the kids but for all of us."
Zhang Xuming, chairman of the China General Chamber of Commerce - Los Angeles, added, "This is the second year we've sponsored young American students to visit China and make friends there. People-to-people relationships are even more important on a student level."
He was touched when one of the students shared a letter he'd sent to his mother that read, "The Chinese people are warm and care about each other. China has developed into its own outstanding nation since you visited there (in 1999)."
Brenda Pensamiento, principal of Alexander Hamilton High School, said to the Consul General and his guests, "Thank you for opening your home - what a tribute to your support of the youth of LA. I've heard people say this is going to be the highlight of their year. I think it's going to be the highlight of their lifetime!"
She added, "In our schools, we talk a lot about getting students ready for the 21th century, but textbooks can't always do that. It's experiences like this that we give to our students that will help them succeed and also help build a global economy we can all benefit from."
Consul General Zhang concluded by warmly congratulating the young globetrotters, saying, "People-to-people exchanges bridge the hearts and minds of the American and Chinese people and constitute the foundation of our relationship. I appreciate the role you played as young cultural ambassadors and the contribution you made to the friendship of our two peoples."