Independent K-12 School in Atlanta

The Paideia School

High School China Trip by Jessica Handler

Coming up with a good idea and putting it into action is a Paideia tradition, but lifelong Paideian and elementary school teacher David Millians (’84) didn’t realize he would launch a tradition himself. Visting China in 2007 as a Fulbright scholar, he found himself wondering, “what would my fifth-graders think” of the culture, language, and history he encountered there.

When he came home, Millians says, “I wrote a proposal for Paul Hayward and Paul Bianchi” and they gave him the green light to organize a high school student trip to China.

Millians, whose fascination with Asia began during his undergraduate studies at Haverford College, will be leading his second student trip to China this summer, from June 13 to July 1st. Eight Paideia high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will visit four Chinese cities with Millians, as well as experiencing more “obscure” sites like the sacred Daoist mountain Huashan and visiting Shanghai’s historic Jewish quarter.

“There will also be home stays with Chinese families,” Millians says, and students will spend a day with their host “sibling” in a Chinese high school classroom. Paideia students will bring their school’s culture across the world by participating in a service project while in China, doing either “light construction or teaching English to younger kids.”

The first Paideia China trip took place in 2009, with sixteen high school students. “[China] is a safe society,” Millians says, “that believes in order and hospitality.” On that trip, the group arrived at the Great Wall on one of the most beautiful days of summer. The trip also coincided with the H1N1 flu scare, and Millians turned the potential for quarantine into a teachable moment, leading his students in a discussion about how and why the Chinese government risked shutting down commerce and tourism. The Paideia group received a clean bill of health upon arrival in China, continuing their trip as planned. This year, radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant accident is one subject of Millians’ careful planning. “We’ll check with government agencies, and if the CDC issues warnings we pay attention,” he says.

Many of the high school travelers were once his fifth graders, so the study of China isn’t new for most of the students. On alternate years, Millians and Becca McCauley’s elementary classroom features China as the theme, framing the study of counting, comparative grammar, puzzles, engineering, and geometry that’s “older than Pythagoras.”

High school trip participants receive weekly emails from Millians with both serious and “wacky” news stories about China, and will take a short term course before the trip to prepare.

Traveling to China is a very rich experience, Millians says, adding that it’s a “treat” for him to see students mentioning their China experience on college applications. Watching the group share photos, diaries, web links, and helping each other while on the trip is an added bonus for their leader, who calls their excitement “marvelous.”

“If you do something once at Paideia,” he says, “ it becomes an honored tradition.”