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Utah students get the trip of a lifetime — to China

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BOUNTIFUL — It was a love of the Chinese language and culture that inspired Lisa Reed to become a Chinese teacher for students at Kaysville and Farmington junior highs three years ago.

It was this same passion that drove the Bountiful resident to take a group of 20 students and parents on the trip of a lifetime: a 16-day tour of China.

"I want them to experience it for themselves," Reed said. "That's why they went to China with me."

The students left on June 16 and returned July 2. The tour included famous sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Qin Museum of Terra-cotta Soldiers and Horses in Xian, the Three Gorges Dam, which will be the largest dam in the world when construction is complete, and Tiananmen Square.

Wherever the students went, they usually attracted a crowd because the Chinese people were amazed to see a group of such young Americans speaking their language. Some of the students on the trip have been studying with Reed for three years while others have been learning for only a year. Reed enjoyed seeing the students' confidence increase.

"It's so good for them to be in a nation where people speak (Chinese) and can tell them to say it with this tone or to correct them," she said. "The students were timid at first, questioning to make sure they had it right, but I told them that even if they made mistakes that's how you learn a language."

Gidianny Gutierrez, 15, has been studying Chinese with Reed for the past three years. She was amazed at her ability to communicate with native speakers.

"I was surprised at how I could speak to the people in Chinese and they would understand me and answer back, even if they'd have to repeat things a couple of times," she said. "For me, it was really great. The harder something is for me, the harder I want to grasp it, and I wanted to test my skills."

Aaron Naylor, 16, had a different experience than many of his classmates. The tour was a family trip for the Kaysville teen as his parents and younger brother also went. The Naylors were with Reed's group for five days then went on their own for six more days. Aaron became the family's translator and primary means of communication.

"It was neat to see him have to use the language skills he had (learned) through the year to talk to our guides," Aaron's mother, Stacey Naylor, said.

Reed's passion for the Chinese language and culture came after she spent a year and a half as a professional dancer in China five years ago. The only Chinese she spoke when she left was one sentence meaning "I don't know."

However, during her time there she learned to speak the language and developed a passion for it, as well as the culture and people. When she came back to the United States, she wanted to continue learning and share her passion with others. This love translated into a job teaching Chinese to junior high students in Farmington and Kaysville — something she never imagined herself doing but has enjoyed.

"Teachers have an amazing opportunity to touch people, to change lives, to set children on paths maybe they wouldn't go down normally," she said.

Taking the tour with the students can't be matched, Reed said.

"It's endearing to have that relationship with them. I feel a closeness with those specific kids who went with me," she said. "We were sharing this friendship with people through their own culture and language, and (that) was rewarding."

E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com