Jennifer Gunter’s passion for exploring cultures and connecting people has been a part of her long before she arrived in Chengdu. While working at a school in Istanbul, Jennifer saw firsthand the incredible bonds formed when faculty and staff shared travel experiences. Whether joining a school-sponsored weekend trip to a historical site or leading a photo walk around the city, these shared experiences brought Jennifer closer to her colleagues and gave her a deeper appreciation of the city where she lived.
When Jennifer moved to China, she brought this idea with her. Starting at BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour, she shared the idea of teacher and staff trips with the HR and operations teams, who set up weekend shuttles to areas of interest in Shenzhen, giving faculty a taste of the vibrant city life. The response was fantastic, and it gave Jennifer the confidence to take this idea further when she moved to Chengdu. As the founding Vice Head of High School at BASIS International & Bilingual School Chengdu, Jennifer wanted to help faculty and staff feel connected to the local area and their colleagues. And so, with the school’s support and help in providing transportation, the travel club was born.
The BASIS Chengdu travel club offers day and overnight excursions in and around Chengdu, focusing on more than just sightseeing. It brings people together for cultural immersion and shared experiences, making an unfamiliar place feel like home for faculty, staff, and their families. Jennifer explained that one goal of the program is ensuring everyone has an opportunity to participate in social activities at least once a month. The club unites people across various school divisions and departments, resulting in a unique mix of people attending each trip—ranging from faculty and staff to their children and even a parent of a teacher.
The inaugural journey of the travel club took them to Xinling Snow Mountain, a pristine destination just 2.5 hours from campus. Here, they enjoyed various winter activities such as skiing, sledding, tubing, and snowmobile rides. The group had a memorable gondola ride up the mountain to participate in these activities and stay overnight at a hotel on the mountainside. The following morning, they took another gondola ride, this time rising above the clouds. As they emerged from the cloud cover, they were met with breathtaking views that created a moment of awe and shared connection.
The group’s next adventure took them to the legendary Leshan Giant Buddha, a marvel of ancient architecture. This colossal 71-meter statue, carved out of a cliff face, is the largest stone Buddha in the world. Located just a 90-minute drive from campus, the excursion offered a day filled with awe and exploration. After enjoying a boat ride with stunning front views of the Buddha, the group members had two options: ascend the 200 stairs leading to the Buddha or explore the charming local village. The day concluded with a lively dinner on the bustling food street.
Their third excursion was a sensory delight at the Sichuan Food Museum, an immersive journey into the heart of bold, spicy Sichuan cuisine. The group indulged in an all-you-can-eat snack street, delighting both meat lovers and vegetarians. Donning chef’s attire, they prepared and feasted on iconic Sichuan dishes like Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Tofu, and dumplings. With cooking certificates in hand and satisfied appetites, they returned home feeling accomplished.
But this is just the beginning. The club intends to continue curating monthly trips based on suggestions from colleagues and local happenings next year. While Jennifer will remain at the helm of planning, she envisions collaborating with her colleagues to organize these shared adventures.
Every journey of the club emphasizes shared experiences and group camaraderie. Through these shared memories, participants have all grown closer, forged strong bonds, and developed a deeper appreciation for their new home. Jennifer acknowledges, “You never know how a trip will go. The respect everyone shows towards the guide, the driver, each other, and the local people is heartening. People have been so thankful for these opportunities. It’s truly rewarding.”
After all, as Jennifer Gunter and her fellow travelers at BASIS International & Bilingual School Chengdu can attest, it is not the places we visit but the experiences we share that transform an unfamiliar place into a community we can call home.
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