Northgate senior studies heritage in China

by Celia Shortt

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Maggie making her dream a reality as she holds a panda cub named ChengShuang at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. 


Northgate High school senior, Maggie Shiffert had her dream become a reality this past summer when she visited Chengdu, China, as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a State Department Study Abroad Program.

Shiffert was born in Chengdu, China, and adopted by American parents when she was a baby.

“For me personally, the trip was a chance to learn about my heritage and the language,” she said. “But I had always wanted to go to Chengdu and work with pandas as my job.”

So when Shiffert found out about the summer program, she applied to go. She was one of 3,000 student applicants. From there, she became one of the 600 semi-finalists, and then one of the final 45 students accepted.

While in China, she had language classes from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. everyday, followed by lunch and then cultural activities. Besides the language, she learned calligraphy and Tai Chi. Her classes included field trips to culturally connected places in Chengdu and service projects. When she was not in class, one thing she was able to do was the English Corner.

“English Corner was on the corner of the street,” she said. “Chinese people would come there and talk in English to improve their skills.”

She also lived with a host family was able to visit the Chinese countryside of Renshou with them. She went their to visit the family of her host mother in her hometown.

All these activities supported the purpose of this summer program of learning how to speak, write, and implement the Chinese language. Shifferts, however, wanted to do more and had been in contact with Dr. Sarah Bexell of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding during her application process.

“For my career, I want to go the veterinary route and work with panda cubs under a year old,” said Shiffert. “I want to make sure that cubs grow and are healthy. When I went to visit the panda base, I got to hold one of the panda cubs. It was part of my dream. I had dreamed about it for awhile.

Every part of this experience was meaningful to Shiffert, and she will take it with her for years to come.

“This experience was a trip of a lifetime because I got to learn a new language, experience a new culture, eat new food, and make new friends who I can still keep in touch with,” she said. “It was also great to connect with my heritage and my culture.”



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