Maryland School for the Deaf students exchanged gifts and culture Monday as the school welcomed a delegation of Chinese students from their sister school, Dongcheng Special Education School in Beijing.

Five deaf Chinese students traveled to Maryland to tour MSD’s campuses both in Frederick and Columbia and spend a few days with MSD students.

“It’s been a beautiful morning, there’s been an exchange of information, of culture, of activities, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the afternoon,” said James Tucker, MSD superintendent, through an interpreter.

It was complicated at times with as many as three interpreters needed to communicate — one American Sign Language interpreter, one English and Mandarin interpreter and one Chinese Sign Language interpreter — but everyone seemed patient and welcoming.

Tucker said the partnership between the schools started four years ago when the first Chinese delegation visited. The superintendent of the Dongcheng school then proposed the two institutions form a partnership.

In 2018, an MSD delegation of students and staff visited Beijing and signed an official agreement with the Dongcheng school, which has about 150 students, a majority of which are deaf or hard of hearing.

At Monday’s meeting, each school exchanged gifts and had a lunch of Black Hog BBQ. For many Chinese students, it was their first time trying the American cuisine.

“I prefer Chinese food. … It tasted good, but … the food here is kind of cold. We are used to warm food,” Chen Fangyuan, 19, said through an interpreter. She was one of five students from China who traveled to Maryland.

She said she liked MSD’s campus and was happy to meet some American students.

Gifts exchanged included a large, intricately designed afghan with depictions of various MSD school buildings throughout the years and hand-carved wooden Chinese bookmarks.

Maryland Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) was also in attendance and gave the Chinese delegations some prints of his paintings of various areas around Frederick.

“I hope you all work hard in school and are very successful and come back and visit,” Young said. “And maybe if I get over there, I’ll be fortunate enough to meet some of you again.”

Young helped the delegation when they ran into a roadblock obtaining U.S. visas, Tucker said.

Kamri Gooding, 17, a senior at MSD, said she had been nervous to meet the Chinese students and was worried about how they would communicate, but said it ended up being easier than expected.

“We’re kind of pointing at things and learning each other’s signs for different objects,” Gooding said through an interpreter. “You worry about making little mistakes culturally and making sure you present yourself well, but it’s been a really nice exchange. It starts out a little awkward, but then you get comfortable with each other.”

Tucker said Monday’s meeting was education at its finest.

“We want to teach [our students] everything, and that includes everything about the world. … I’m hoping that there was a broadening of their cultural understanding,” he said through an interpreter.

He said he hopes this new partnership will lead to more visits and eventually a full exchange program of both students and teachers.