HURST -- When the band blared and cheerleaders tumbled across the gymnasium floor at L.D. Bell High School, 38 students from China whipped out tiny cameras and snapped photos.
This marked the first pep rally for students from Yichang Jin Dong Fang in the Hubei region of China.
"We are getting the full American culture," said Liu Yan, the school's assistant principal and group chaperone.
As part of a cultural partnership, students from China spent the week attending classes at L.D. Bell in Hurst and Central Junior High School in Euless. They lived with host families, practiced their English, attended the pep rally, cheered for the Rangers against the Boston Red Sox, devoured barbecue, and toured the Fort Worth Stockyards and zoo.
Today, they return to China.
The Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district has offered Mandarin Chinese language instruction since 2007 through its International Business Initiative, which prepares students for a global workforce. Bhavani Parpia, program coordinator, said the district immediately began searching for overseas schools with which to create partnerships.
So far, students have exchanged e-mails and plan to start communicating via Skype.
This was the Chinese students' first visit to the U.S. Next year, H-E-B students hope to travel to China.
"This is about the sharing of ideas and opening of minds," Parpia said. "Students from both countries get to practice their language skills and learn about another culture."
About 180 students in junior high and high school are enrolled in Chinese, Parpia said.
During the visit, Chinese students pointed out differences between their schools and their American counterparts. They preferred to use only their American names instead of their Chinese names.
"In China, we wake up very early and go to bed late," said Adela, 13. "We have much homework all the time."
Helen, also 13, said American students are allowed to wander around the classroom.
"We always sit during class," she said.
Julia Theisen, a junior at L.D. Bell who has taken Chinese since seventh grade, said the visit provided her with the rare opportunity to practice her Mandarin with native speakers near her age. Two students lived with her family for the week.
"There were definite language barriers, but it was very interesting to see the two cultures mix," Theisen said. "I did a lot of translating for my parents."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056