This year, the Darien High School China Exchange Program is back to its original ways after overcoming a few slight obstacles.

Last year’s exchange class was unable to fully immerse in the Chinese culture. The Chinese students of Shanghai were denied Visas to travel to the United States and therefore Darien students were denied the ability to stay with Shanghai students while in China.

“It was very disappointing,” said faculty advisor and Darien High School history teacher Jennifer Murphy.

Instead of canceling the program all together, the exchange program created a new itinerary. They traveled 10 days through Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu.

“We had a great time,” said Murphy.

The last group able to experience the exchange aspect of the program was the 2018 student group. After their extraordinary experience, multiple students agreed that the loss of the exchange would serve as a major setback to the program.

“The exchange part of the trip is where you experience Chinese culture. You can travel to historic monuments and climb the Great Wall of China, but this does not compare to living with a family in the heart of Shanghai. Students are forced to be put outside of their comfort zone living with a family who may not know any English.” said Senior Elena Degennaro.

Most students agreed that staying with a host family was the highlight of their experience.

“They would make amazing home cooked dinners and take me to places that I wouldn’t have been able to see as a tourist.” said Degennaro.

Students also agreed that the friendships they developed through those two weeks will last a lifetime. The majority of them are still in touch.

This year’s group is back on track to experience the immersive program. They are halfway there, as the Chinese exchange students stayed with host families here in Darien from Sept. 27 to Oct. 8. They attended classes at Darien High School during the day and returned home with their host families at night.

“I really found hosting an exchange student to be the perfect setup for the trip to China,” said Vivy Rooney, Darien High sophomore and exchange member.

“The more time spent with the students the more aware I am of how different our cultures are, but more importantly I realized just how similar we are as high school students.” she continued.

The two groups educated each other on their own cultures. While staying with host families in Darien, the exchange students traveled together to New York. They also had a costume party to allow the Chinese students to experience the American holiday of Halloween.

In addition to developing relationships with the Chinese students, many exchange members are grateful for the community that is automatically created in the classroom.

“I am so grateful to have not only made friendships with students in China, but also my peers at DHS that I wouldn’t have necessarily talked to. Chex truly brings people from all across the school together and this is something that the majority of people at DHS will not experience.” said Degennaro.

The DHS China Exchange program is open to any students in grades 10-12. The application process is competitive and students go through an application and interview process. The course is offered as a two semester, full year elective.