Experienced firsthand: BCPS graduate find unmatched opportunity abroad


Her feet barely reaching the vinyl tile beneath her and her hands firmly gripping the sides of her hard plastic chair, Annie Seaman focused her eyes on the papers tucked between the fingers of her Grade 6 homeroom teacher. From behind her short, sand-colored desk, Seaman watched as her teacher thumbed through the stack, matching printed names to some curious, and other tired, faces before stumbling upon an anxious one: hers.

Even from several feet away, Seaman knew that Grade 7 registration forms laid inside her teacher’s hands. She also knew that a lot depended on the time that completing her form would take. So, when a paper printed with her name finally fell from her teacher’s fingers and onto her desk, Seaman acted quickly.

“My Grade 7 year was the first time that [Hereford Middle School] offered Chinese,” she says, explaining her anxious impatience to register for classes. “So I took it, looking for something different and challenging.”

A year into her study, Seaman mentions that she “fell in love with the language” and, come Grade 8 registration time, completed her form much as she did before: by placing a check beside Chinese. The next year, while sitting in her Chinese II classroom, she discovered Baltimore County Public Schools’ China Cultural Exchange Program.

“I became interested [in the program] when I was in Grade 8 because one of the first groups of exchange students came to my school, and [my classmates and I] ate lunch with them,” says Seaman. “They were all so interesting and kind, so as soon as I could [participate in the program] in high school, I had to sign up!”

“Sign up” – and participate! – she did: once accepted into the program, Seaman, then a freshman at Hereford High School, travelled to China with a group of 17 BCPS students and staff. And, while she remembers finding comfort in the familiarity of her BCPS tour group, she shares one notable challenge.

“[T]he hardest part was not saying, ‘That’s so weird,’” says Seaman about her first exposures to Chinese culture. “I wanted to learn as much as I could about the culture, but Chinese culture is very different than American culture. So it was just natural to say something was weird and move on instead of trying to understand why there is a difference.”

Yet, despite the initial difficulty, Seaman says that she managed to overcome her early impulse: “As soon as I started exploring the culture and stopped saying things were weird, I learned so much more about China, and my experience became more authentic and real.”

During her sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, Seaman continued to learn about China and build on her experiences not only by enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) Chinese classes but also by returning to the country and hosting an exchange student each year. Her consistent involvement with the China Cultural Exchange Program, she believes, played a leading role in shaping her understanding of difference in general.

“I learned that it’s always easier to talk about the differences between people, cultures and nations and just blame problems on these differences, but in fact, we all really have a lot more in common than is expected or predicted,” says Seaman.

“With the program specifically, I expected not to have that much in common with my exchange student but I forgot that we were both teenagers and that we both liked the same music and movies and going shopping and going out to restaurants.”
According to Seaman, her acknowledgement of those similarities is what allowed her to form “incredible friendships,” many of which she returned to when, last fall, she retraced her path some 8,000 miles eastward to begin college.

“Now, I go to school at New York University (NYU) Shanghai, where I am working toward a global China studies major and a Chinese minor,” she says. “I knew Chinese was something that I wanted to continue learning and I knew I needed to become fluent in the language.”

While she admits that she is “still working on [becoming fluent in Chinese],” Seaman is quick to credit the BCPS China Cultural Exchange Program for its role in enabling much of the progress that she’s made thus far.

“The program will always be meaningful to me,” she says. “It came at the perfect time and allowed me to realize what I wanted to do the rest of my life before a lot of my friends.”

For the next two months, though, Seaman is taking a break from her studies to spend the summer with family and friends in Maryland. And, while she’s enjoying her time here, Seaman shares that she’s eager to return to Shanghai, encouraging others to travel abroad, too.

“[Since] I moved to China, my life has become more exciting,” she says. “It is so rewarding being immersed in a culture that is so opposite than what you are used to and comfortable with, so leave your comfort zone, take a leap and be ready to experience something that will change you.”

The opportunity for BCPS students to follow Seaman’s advice will be available this fall when the Office of World Languages begins accepting applications for the 2015-2016 exchange. However, in the meantime, students can learn more about the

BCPS China Cultural Exchange Program by visiting

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Story by Blake Lubinski, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos from Annie Seaman, 2014 graduate, Hereford High School.
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