If teachers at Park Street Intermediate School ask their students in the fall to write reports on how they spent their summer vacations, there may well be a 23-place tie for the farthest journey.

That would reflect how many students participated in the school's biennial visit to Hong Kong.

The 23 students spent June 16-28 in Hong Kong. Most of the participants reconnected with students from two Hong Kong schools who had visited Grove City earlier this year.

"Most of our students were able to stay with the families of Hong Kong students who stayed in their homes during their visit to Grove City," said Ed Nelson, a health and wellness teacher who organizes yearly visits between students and teachers from Taoist Ching Chung Primary School and Ma On Shan Ling Liang Primary School and Park Street.

This year marked the fourth time Park Street has organized a trip to Hong Kong. Park Street students also made one visit to South Africa.

"It's the most students we've ever had participate in the trip, and that's mostly because the schools in Hong Kong are able to arrange for a larger number of places for our students to stay," Nelson said.

During their visit, the Park Street students attended class at their host schools and visited several landmarks, including the Tian Tan Buddha, the Ocean Park amusement park and the Tai O Fishing Village.

Park Street has welcomed visitors from Hong Kong since 2010 through the International Alliance for Invitational Education program.

The experience of having students from Hong Kong visit them and then making a journey in return is an educational and enriching opportunity for Park Street fifth- and sixth-graders, he said.

It's a chance to learn about another country and culture firsthand and not just from a textbook or online source, Nelson said.

"One of things I notice each time is that our students find out that a lot more is expected of students in Hong Kong," Nelson said. "I think they are surprised that kids over there have a lot more homework to do and are expected to clean up after themselves without being asked."

Perhaps the most valuable lesson the students can learn is to empathize and relate to people whose culture is different from their own, he said.

"You see that connection being made when the Hong Kong students come here and then it deepens when we make our visit," Nelson said.

"The founder of the IAIE program has said that he thinks this program can do more to help spread world peace than the world's leaders can, because when you get to know people from other countries, you realize there's more that unites us than separates us," he said.

Twins Logan and Madeline Nixon both agreed they enjoyed learning about another culture.

"I expected everything to be bigger, like the houses, but they were a lot smaller than what we have here," Logan said. "Families have to share a lot less space than we do."

But then there was the visit to the Sky100 observation deck on the 100th floor of the 118-story International Commerce Center.

"I never imagined being up so high. You were up above the clouds," Logan said. "It was freaky at first, but then you got used to looking out through the window. It's an amazing view."

"On a clear day, like we had, you can see all the way across Hong Kong," Nelson said.

The people of Hong Kong "are more welcoming than I think we are in America," Logan said. "They're always ready to say 'hi' to you. They're really friendly."

One of the friendliest faces belonged to the student who stayed with Logan's family earlier this year.

"His name is Matt -- that's his 'American' name -- and he's really cool," he said. "We really became even better friends when I visited him. We like a lot of the same things and like the same kind of food."

How fish is served in Hong Kong was striking, Logan said.

"They don't cut fish up into pieces like we do," he said. "They cook it whole and then they eat it by taking chunks out of it. It was a little weird to me."

Madeline said she was surprised at some of the small differences between life in the United States and Hong Kong.

"I was really surprised that they drive on the left side of the road," she said. "That takes some getting used to."

But there's another aspect of transportation that is different from Ohio, and it's one that Madeline said she loves.

"They have a subway, it's kind of like a train, and they really travel fast," she said. "It'd be great to have something like this in our city."

Madisyn Robinson said she expected to find Hong Kong dealing with pollution.

"I had read they have a pollution problem, but the nature is so beautiful there," she said. "Hong Kong is just a gorgeous city. I really didn't see much pollution at all."

The experience of visiting Hong Kong is hard to put into words, but the effect is something that is in her mind and her heart, Madisyn said.

"I think it's made me a little more independent and has helped me understand the world a little better," she said. "I'm lucky that I got a chance to explore a different culture."

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