“Who am I?” “Who are we as a people?” “What does it mean to belong to a particular identity or identities?” These are some of the questions students asked when exploring the arts or architecture of cities and towns across China? As B.R. Tilghman notes in his essay on understanding culture through architecture, “For we want to understand how we live in it and with it and work in it and how the history of the building affects our activities and how it connects us with our traditions.” There is a need to seek out the self in the process of learning and becoming, and this is integral to the Keystone’s Experiential Learning Program (ELP).
One of the grade 8 students, exploring the grottos and tombs of Gansu, was able to look back at life through the paintings in the tombs: “Being inside an over 1500-year old tomb was incredible! Perhaps the most interesting part of the tomb was that many of the bricks were covered with simple paintings depicting the daily lives of the inhabitants of the tomb. The paintings spoke of hunting, meal preparation, dining with guests, dancing and more.” This is not just a peek into history, but also discovering a link to one’s own culture and sense of belonging, a part of a whole. “At Keystone, we go away to feel the pulse of life and learning through our fingertips,” said Head of School Malcolm McKenzie. “We go away to learn in a different setting and in new ways, and to explore the remarkable heritage of our country,” he added.
Sometimes the ways in which we know and understand ourselves might not be quite what we find in our explorations, as grade 9 student Cherry Tian remarks while discovering the temples of Shanxi: “As we stepped out after touring the temples I watched two monks scale a mountain. It seemed like a grueling process. It surprised me to see no sense or expressions of elation on their faces having reached the top. It was an eye-opening moment for me when I realized that sometimes, the journey is the destination.”
While grade 8 examined the architectural splendors of Gansu and grade 9 absorbed the magnificent structures of Shanxi, students in grade 5 were in Fujian getting familiar with China’s tradition, history and art of tea. Grade 5 teacher, Simon Weight exclaimed, “One of the most interesting moments was an informal conversation the students and I had with a elderly tea seller in a small shop. She offered fresh insights into the history and art of tea. It was a spontaneous moment of pure exploration. She even offered us some of the most expensive teas in her store, which was very generous.”
The history, culture and traditions of Yunnan were what grade 7 explored. “The students were very creative and got into tie-dying, creating some amazing pieces of work in such a short amount of time,” said Prisana Heaton, secondary school Math teacher. “The students all gave it their all while learning the traditional dance, flute playing and singing. They were taking a risk and were open minded about learning a new task.”
Finding the new in the old, the traditions, the ancient, and physically being able to do so by experiencing it in various forms of arts, including architecture, is all part of our learning ethos. ELP is part of Keystone’s academic program for grades 4 to 10, and especially links to the keystone on Chinese Thread. All travel experiences link to what they learn in school and help them understand their own selves as well as build community between students, teachers and their surroundings. As Mr McKenzie noted in one of weekly messages, “I am proud that Keystone decided to build this week into the curriculum in our first year and that we continue to observe and refine it. It is so important, in different ways, to stress the importance of outdoors, ‘in the field’ experiential learning, and to bring these lessons and practices into other domains, such as the classroom.”