Stafford students incredible adventure to China

By Rob Golledge | Stafford | Education | Published:

Ten students from Stafford have completed a trip to China after winning a competition with the town's New Beacon Group, who own the former Staffordshire University site. Here are some of their stories.

Emma Setterfield-Smith, Weston Road Academy:

Travelling is an aspect of life I’ve always wanted to explore, whether that be the wonder of places nearby or the curiosity of lands further afield. When I learnt that I had been selected as a winner for my businesses competition, and that I soon would be journeying to China, the only words to describe my response would be pure excitement and disbelief.

Before the news even had a moment to settle, it felt as though the day had arrived and off we were on our nine-hour flight to the complete unknown.

My vision of China had always been one of extreme contrast. I always felt it was a country that reached all the way from beautiful scenery and intricate gardens to the over populated cities and extravagant food. My findings were not so different from my expectations, however having the opportunity to learn and find deeper meanings within these qualities first hand allows you to really understand and appreciate China for the beautiful, ever-changing country it really is.

For me, the core aspect of what really gives you that sense of amazement is the in-depth culture that is just bursting out of every person, building and atmosphere around you. Everywhere you look there is something new to learn, a new meaning to find and more questions to ask.

I saw that the locals around us, through their pride and generosity, really embraced us into their way of life and wanted us to learn more about the way they live. I soon realised that China was a place of intense character, and a place which I felt I really needed to investigate and explore before I left.

For me, China held moments of complete astonishment and disbelief in the magnificence around me, for example with ‘he Great Wall and the Leshan Giant Buddha. Both of these were personal highlights for me, as I just found myself completely wrapped up in that moment with no desire to be anywhere else. I remember being stood on the Great Wall and gazing over to the hills in the far distance, and still being able to see the wall protruding over their peaks miles and miles away. Quite like the Leshan Buddha, to see this 71m (232ft) high God-like structure slowly emerge in front of you completely took my breath away and wonder how such wonderful things can exist and how some people will never have the chance to experience their power and impact.

Along with the amazing offerings of the country itself, one aspect which really made the trip so special to everyone was the amazing group of people we were with. We met up with some colleagues of the New Beacon Group who came with us, and I can honestly say they left such an impact upon each individual on this trip through their constant motivation, eager interest in getting to know us and making genuine lasting friendships with us. As a group we were honestly so grateful for every opportunity we were given, and I feel this was shown through the genuine upset we all felt upon our departure.


On a personal level, China for me has been indescribable and a definite reminder of why I have always wanted to travel. I’m so thankful to have been able to partake in this adventure and be introduced to this exciting, beautiful culture. For now, I await my certain return in the future.

Huda Daghem, William Howard High School:

Over 5,000 miles away from our humble town of Stafford, China is a country with a rich history and amazing culture, all of which I was fortunate enough to experience thanks to the New Beacon Group.

This once-in-a-lifetime trip took me literally halfway around the world to cities I only dreamed of visiting, and meeting people who have made a lasting impression on both myself and the other students on the trip.


During our visit we were invited to two different international schools, the first being the Canadian International School of Beijing. Using the Canadian system they were already different from your average Stafford high school; but whilst sitting in lessons with a grade 10 (year 11) student the contrasts were clear. Each student would be using their own MacBook in lesson to complete tasks that teachers had sent to them that morning or to make notes on the subject they were studying. They were offered a wide range of subjects to study, it being mandatory to choose one foreign language and PE theory (my worst nightmare).

Despite these differences, they were still being taught the same thing I am currently learning for my GCSEs at Blessed William Howard High School. For me, it helped me come to the realisation that education is universal and every student has the same knowledge; as the principal of the school, Mr Prescott, said: "Students are not only competing against the people sitting next to them in the exam hall, they’re competing with students halfway around the world, in all different countries.”

Following the school visit, our stay in Beijing was full of amazing tourist activities one being the Chinese acrobat show that had me on the edge of my seat for the better half of an hour. It was astonishing to watch as seven men on motorbikes rode around a metal sphere simultaneously.

Leaving Beijing we took a three-hour flight to Chengdu where we visited the Confucius International School. Upon our arrival we were greeted by our student tour guides and gifted with schools badges. The site itself is full of history, having been built over 70 years ago. It has some structures that still have the remains of trauma caused by the Second World War. As a result of this, the school’s aim seemed to be to intertwine a respect for Chinese history and culture and an understanding of the new ideas of the modern world.

Unlike the Canadian school, Confucius followed the English curriculum and studied towards GCSEs and A Level’s. It was amazing to see students – to whom English is a second language – completing exams in English receiving the same grades as we do. They also entertained us with traditional Chinese dance and a performance using a traditional Chinese interment called the guqin.

For many, the most impressionable moments of this trip would be the panda sanctuary or the fifty foot carving of the Buddha and, although they were both unique and astounding experiences in my opinion, the school visits are what affected me the most. Being able to see the difference in education as a result of the country you’re in or the finances attributed to you was eye opening, as well as recognising that in spite of this your opportunities remain equal. Your success is dependant on how hard you work. This trip has been an unforgettable period in my life that I will always look back on with happiness in regard to the adventures we shared together.

Niall Vockins, Weston Road Academy:

On the plane journey back from China, I just sat and recalled the whole journey from its beginning. I went through everything that happened, everything that I saw. I couldn’t believe that it had ended. However, I knew that the trip was definitely the best experience of my life.

China was completely different to how I imagined it – I genuinely thought that I would feel out of place, like the odd one out. I thought that it would be very busy, and the skies would be completely covered in smog from pollution. But I now know that it’s not really like that.

The people of China welcomed us with open arms. Not once did I feel uncomfortable there, everything just felt amazing. It’s strange to think that with all of the differences between England and China, it really didn’t feel too different from what I’m used to.

Beijing was completely different to how I imagined it to be. Yes, it was busy at times but, on the whole, the traffic wasn’t bad, and I don’t recall seeing an insane amount of people in one go. Also, the pollution really wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, there were a few days where the sky was completely clear, showing off blue sunny skies.

Then moving onto the sights, all of them were absolutely breathtaking. It really hasn’t sunk in yet that I’ve walked along the Great Wall of China. Despite having an over-excessive amount of photos, it still hasn’t sunk in. As well as this, seeing places like the Forbidden City, the Olympic Stadium and the Summer Palace will definitely stay in my mind for the rest of my life.

I couldn’t get over how beautiful the architecture in China was. Throughout the trip, I made memories that will last a lifetime. I made friendships that I will always cherish, and it’s even given me a kick-start for traveling the world – my ultimate goal in life.

It’s extremely difficult to choose just one favourite memory, but getting to the second highest point on the whole of the Great Wall of China will definitely stay in my mind forever. Despite my body telling me I couldn’t do it, my sheer determination took over, and I made it. I’ve never felt so proud of myself before. Finally, if I was to take anything from this trip away with me, it will definitely be not judging a book by its cover. Despite wanting to go, I had preconceptions on what I thought China was like. However, having been, I can happily say that China is an incredible place that will stay in my heart forever.

Harry McCarroll, Weston Road Academy:

Whilst in China, myself and nine other students (along with staff members) visited an array of attractions such as the Great Wall of China and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which truly made this journey the trip of a lifetime.

As a group, we had the chance to experience the cable car escort from the entrance of the Mutianyu Great Wall to the Wall itself, which offered a truly extraordinary birds-eye view of the terrain the wall covered.

Our visit to the giant panda research base was equally satisfying with a show of some of the current giant panda cubs, which brought a throb to everyone’s heart; the urge to take one home grew as the day went on. Thank you to the New Beacon Group for this awe-inspiring experience, I will never forget the friends and memories we made in a different world.

Rob Golledge

By Rob Golledge

Part of the Express & Star special projects team responsible for investigations and major stories from politics to counter terrorism


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