More than 30 international students from the University of Michigan–Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter) embarked on a week-long journey to Nanxun, a scenic ancient water town in the Huzhou city of East China’s Zhejiang Province on May 6.

The trip organized by the JI Cross Culture Center serves to engage the students in diverse activities that connected them with Chinese traditions and local communities. The group, which included students from 13 countries, aimed to foster intercultural understanding and contribute to the local community through volunteer teaching and cultural exchanges.

Xu Zheng, a 2010 JI alumnus and principal of Sijin Primary School, welcomed the group to his school primarily serving children of migrant workers. With “Gratitude for our roots, keeping up with the times.” as its motto, the school promotes a “universal physical education” teaching concept, aiming to ensure that every student develops a strong body and a positive, optimistic mindset.

The volunteer teaching team, led by JI student Yuanfang Wang, spent their spring break at the Sijin school, where they taught various subjects, shared cultural knowledge, and engaged in interactive activities with the students. The volunteers also organized cross-cultural exchanges, introducing the children to their home countries’ traditions and customs.

The week-long event included not only classroom interactions but also visits to Huzhou’s Non-heritage Museum and traditional craft workshops. They are also expected to experience traditional Chinese activities such as silkworm processing and writing brush making, deepening their understanding of China’s rich cultural heritage.

Shiang Angela, a JI student from the United States, shared her reflections on the trip: “Interacting with the students at Sijin Primary School was an eye-opening experience. Their enthusiasm for learning and interest in different cultures was inspiring. I hope I can be a positive influence as they pursue their dreams.”

Ami Hashida from Japan said, “This was my first visit to a school for children of migrant workers in China. The dedication and effort that go into creating a supportive learning environment were evident. I felt honored to participate in this cross-cultural exchange event.”

Her view was echoed by Choo Lee Wen from Malaysia, “The classroom experience at Sijin Primary School was unforgettable. Despite limited resources, the students’ energy and determination were remarkable. The exposure to Huzhou’s rich history and traditional activities also provided me invaluable insights into Chinese culture.”

Since its establishment in 2006, JI has attracted more than 700 degree-seeking international students from over 40 countries, providing a platform for cultural exchange and collaboration. The joint institute also welcomes short-term exchange students from its worldwide partners every year.