Two Ponteland teenagers said they learned a great deal from their separate visits to capital cities.
George Hunter’s prize for winning one of the HSBC British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition categories in December was an all-expenses-paid trip to Beijing.
Fellow Year 12 Ponteland High School student Bea Holliday was selected to shadow Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham, at the House of Commons in London for a day.
After returning home from his recent trip to China, George said: “Once we met at London Heathrow, the nine winners from the different categories, along with a representative from the British Council, took our seats for the 10-hour flight.
“Although I have been to Beijing once before, I was expecting a slightly different experience since we were staying at the high school affiliated to Peking University.
“It was brilliant to be allowed to stay in the on-campus accommodation and use their facilities.
“After being paired with one of the students at the school, we were given the opportunity to shadow them and participate in their classes. It was an interesting experience, however, after attending one of the Chinese lessons, I realised that I’m far from fluent.
“The enthusiasm of every student was obvious, especially in the sports lessons. Sadly, we let our country down by losing a basketball game against a team of Chinese students!
“As well as attending lessons, we visited the Great Wall (Mutianyu part), Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, National Museum of China and many other historical and famous landmarks.
“On the second last day we visited the British Council, which is based in the British Embassy. After the tour, we attended a meeting with Echo Wang – the director of education programmes – during which we discussed our reasons for learning Mandarin.
“Overall, I had an amazing time and met some very friendly and interesting people who I will keep in touch with. Participating in the competition and the subsequent prize is an experience I will never forget.“
The 17-year-old achieved an A* in Mandarin at GCSE.
He also set-up a website and blog in September (www.mytiediary.co.uk) so people can follow his progress as he attempts to wear a different tie for every day of the school year. He is doing this challenge to raise funds for and awareness of three mental health charities.
Bea was able to witness a day in the life of an MP and see at close quarters how Parliament works.
She was also given a tour of the Houses of Parliament and invited to attend an afternoon reception with the Speaker of the House in his state apartments.
MPs from all political parties took part in the day. Its aim was to inspire young women from all walks of life.
Bea said: “It was brilliant to access Number 10 Downing Street and the House of Commons, and sitting in the famous chamber to watch a debate was extremely inspiring and very interesting.
“One of my favourite memories of the day was having afternoon tea in the Speaker of the House’s state apartments.
“The reception gave me the opportunity to talk to politicians and other young people who share my political passion.”