Education

Educational Trips to China Canceled; Future Exchange Efforts Said in Doubt

By Peter Schmidt — June 14, 1989 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“People who are interested in China and the Chinese language really want to be over there,” Ms. Fountain said. “It’s one of the most interesting historical experiences you could be part of. It’s life-threatening, but it’s educational.”

No U.S. students or teachers were reported by the officials to have been among the hundreds, and possibly thousands, of dead and wounded in the violence, officials of exchange organizations said.

But amid the reports of Chinese civilians being shot or overrun by tanks and rumors that segments of the army were preparing to assault universities, most officials said they were canceling plans to send secondary-school students and educators to China this summer.

Most of the program administrators said they remained hopeful that their hard-won links with China could be restored once stability returned. But they acknowledged that those links were at the mercy of rapidly changing events in Beijing and the American government’s reaction to them.

“There was no preparing for this because it has stretched beyond any of our wildest dreams,” said Scott D. Ramey, a spokeman for a.f.s. Intercultural Programs, which spent much of last week trying to contact the 28 students and teachers it had sent to China to assist them in leaving the country.

By midweek, officials at a.f.s., formerly known as the American Field Service, also said the organization had made a “calm and measured” decision to suspend all of its programs in China, including a planned trip for 130 precollegiate teachers at the end of June.

“We are very disappointed to have to do it,” Mr. Ramey said. “The safety of our participants is our number one concern. We could not send participants with this type of unrest going on.”

“It is devastating to us,” said Robert M. Leeds, executive director of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association.

“We obviously are deeply saddened by the violence and profoundly affected on a deeply personal level because we’ve personally dealt with thousands of Chinese students, teachers, educators, and scholars since 1972, and they are at the heart of this,” Mr. Leeds said.

Most From Universities

Over all, few American high-school students were in China when the violence erupted, exchange officials said, because it is difficult for them to be enrolled in Chinese schools year round, and most visit the country only on summer tours.

The overwhelming majority of American students in China were reported to have come from colleges and universities.

Spokesmen for the U.S. State Department’s bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs last week estimated that 8,000 Americans were in China when the violence began, including 270 students and 600 tourists in Beijing and an additional 110 students and 4,600 tourists elsewhere in China.

“It is difficult to assess what kind of danger they are in,” said Alexander Almasov, a department spokesman.

By midweek, dependents of U.S. official personnel were being ordered to leave China and other American citizens were being strongly urged to leave without delay.

About 50 percent of the American students in China had declined to be evacuated, while about 55 teachers and students had been transported by the U.S. Embassy to the airport, the State Department reported.

Statistics on the exact number of Americans teaching in China were unavailable. “Our primary concern is our teachers on the front line,” said Mr. Ramey, who was keeping tabs on two high-school teachers that the a.f.s. had sent to Beijing.

‘They Can Only Hope’

Many U.S. organizations said their exchange partners in China--with whom virtually all said they had enjoyed excellent relations--encouraged the evacuation of Americans and the cancellation of summer trips in order to protect those involved.

“They have no clue when this will be over and they can only hope things will return to normal,” said Jennifer W. Fountain, director of programs in China for the American Institute for Foreign Study, which plans China trips for high-school students and teachers.

“They have a sense of powerlessness,” Ms. Fountain said. “They want to maintain relations with the United States but they do not know how things will be going.”

Student, Teacher Trips Halted

Ms. Fountain said her organization had planned to send 250 precollegiate teachers and students to China this summer, but most were canceling their trips.

Mr. Leeds of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association said his organization responded to the dangers of travel in China by canceling a June 25 trip planned for 24 high-school students. The group opted instead to take the students on a tour of Hong Kong and other Pacific Rim cities with close economic ties to the People’s Republic.

Other organizations that canceled summer trips to China included the Council on International Educational Exchange, which had planned trips for 10 students and 14 secondary-school educators, and the International Christian Youth Exchange. That group had planned to send students and volunteers to China in July and instead was working last week to retrieve four recentel15lhigh-school graduates who had retreated to Hong Kong.

“At the moment, you can’t find anyone [in China] to do business with,” said Lance R. Odden, headmaster of the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., which postponed a student-faculty trip that had been scheduled to depart last Sunday.

Sister Cities International, which has linked to China about 40 U.S. cities that frequently send over delegations of teachers and students, issued a statement urging the cancellation of any cultural exchanges with China planned for the near future.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which had entered a three-year agreement with the Chinese government to help strengthen the higher-education systems in both countries, had to cancel a trip just before the violence because the student protests made it difficult to visit universities.

Hopes and Worries

Many exchange organizations last week also were tending to the needs of Chinese nationals who had traveled to the United States.

Stephen H. Rhinesmith, president of the a.f.s., said his group was contacting Chinese teachers here under the the organization’s auspices ''to evaluate their emotional well-being and to share any information we have gathered.”

Maria C. Ramirez, executive director of the New York State Department of Education’s Center for Multi-national and Comparative Education, said she was still counting on the arrival of 40 Chinese secondary-school students in September because such exchanges “would benefit whatever group comes into power.”

But Mr. Odden of the Taft School, who is a student of Chinese history, said he expected the flow of Chinese students to his campus to be stemmed if hard-liners come to power because many of the student protesters learned their ideas from the West.

Ms. Fountain of the American Institute for Foreign Study predicted that the victory of hard-liners in the Chinese power struggle would lead to purges of students there, and “being a student of any nationality would not be a safe thing.”

But she added that the situation has not discouraged many from wanting to travel there and may even have heightened interest.

“People who are interested in China and the Chinese language really want to be over there,” Ms. Fountain said. “It’s one of the most interesting historical experiences you could be part of. It’s life-threatening, but it’s educational.”


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP