On Andrea Tjemsland's first day as a sophomore at Sequim High School, she noticed things she hadn't before.
The water was drinkable, the windows were not broken, the classrooms were filled with sturdy desks and posters, maps and educational decorations lined the walls. It was a stark contrast to what she saw a couple weeks earlier while on a trip to China with her aunt Mary Norton.
While touring a school in Xian, she was struck by the bare walls, broken windows and how dirty the classrooms were.
"You feel very lucky being in school in the U.S.," she said, adding the school didn't have a heating or cooling system.
Tjemsland decided she wanted to go to China after watching videos about the country in her freshman history class with teacher Nate Davis, she said.
"It just fascinated me so much," she said.
She called her aunt, who was at Disneyland, and told her she wanted to go to China that summer. Two weeks later Norton got an e-mail from a travel company with a special tour package for China and the trip was on, Norton said.
Tjemsland said she was worried about things like water potability, safety and laws because she had heard China was an intense and scary place.
Water from a tap was not drinkable and even when brushing her teeth she had to be sure to rinse with bottled water and not put the brush in the sink's running water, she said.
The drivers in China didn't pay attention to traffic signals or pedestrians and it wasn't uncommon to see them driving or parking on sidewalks, she said.
"It's a three-lane highway but if they can make four or five (lanes) out of it, they will," Norton said.
Aside from being cautious of the water and bad drivers, Tjemsland said she was amazed by some of the things she saw.
In sixth grade a teacher showed Tjemsland's class photos of the tomb of one of China's emperors, who wanted thousands of terra-cotta warriors built to be buried with him so they could protect him in the afterlife, she said.
"Three farmers were going to go build a well and they started digging and found a pit of terra-cotta warriors," she said.
So far 6,400 warriors have been uncovered, and no two have the same face, she said.
"You walk in and it is so intense and amazing," Tjemsland said of the structure built around the warriors. Since sixth grade she's wanted to see the warriors but didn't think it'd ever happen, she said.
Tjemsland and Norton also saw the Great Wall of China. The crowd was unbelievable - as was the wall, which seemed to never end, Tjemsland said.
The two took the hard route to avoid being pushed and poked by the crowds, who had no concept of personal space, Tjemsland said.
Sometimes a couple of people would walk up to Tjemsland and ask to get their picture taken with her, Norton said.
Tjemsland said she is glad to be back and is excited that many of her classes this year tie in to her newfound passions: Asian culture and Communism.
Her literature class is focusing on culture and her journalism class is reading about Kim Jong Il, North Korea's "Supreme Leader," she said.
The "forbiddenness" and government control in Communist countries fascinate her, especially after seeing it in practice in China, she said.
"It is mind-boggling and life-changing," she said.
Norton said the trip made her thankful for what she has.
"The first day back (at school) I kept thinking how lucky I am," she said. "I heard people complain about being back at school and I'd think to myself, 'We are very lucky to be going to school here.'"
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