Student in the Spotlight: Karen Vanegas

China.VanegasZ.gif Karen Vanegas in China with two new friends.

By Talishia Sears

Rising senior Karen Vanegas is an active member of The China Exchange Program, sponsored by Chinatown Community Culture Center. She has been in the program since the 10th grade, along with other students from different public schools in the city. She traveled to China in the summer of 2007.

"As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I was like "wow!" It was a culture shock for China and for us. There is no diversity in China. Everyone is Chinese, so our group of young people from Washington D.C. drew a lot of attention," she said.

Vanegas had already been studying Mandarin Chinese for six months before her trip. She and the other members of The China Exchange had to learn how to write, speak, and understand Mandarin Chinese. They also had to learn Chinese etiquette, how to use chopsticks and how to make dumplings.

"I enjoy learning a language different from English and Spanish," said Vanegas, who is fluent in both. "I'm American-Salvadoran. It is important for me to learn about my two cultures, but it is also important to learn about cultures different from my own in order to have a greater understanding of the world."

While in China, they climbed The Great Wall which is one of Seven Wonders of the World.

"It's better to stare at The Great Wall then actually climb it," said Vanegas. "There were so many steps our feet were aching."

Now Vanegas and other students are trying to go back to China to develop their Mandarin, which they continued to study after they returned.

"We devoted a year of our free time to learning Mandarin, which is why it's important for us to return to China. In China we will be able to develop our language skills and learn more about Chinese culture," she said.

The main focus of The China Exchange Program this year is to raise money to return to China. It costs $55,000 for the group. Right now the students are conducting fundraisers and are planning a benefit dinner.

If you would like to contribute to this cultural exchange for a very deserving group of young people, please contact The Chinatown Community Cultural Center at

By Anna Kinsman |  June 4, 2008; 2:08 PM ET Feature
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