Whareama School principal Darren Kerr travels to China tomorrow to lead classes and help enhance a two-decade tradition of teacher visits between Masterton and its sister city Changchun.

Mr Kerr was appointed principal at the 30-student rural school east of Masterton in 2012, coming to the post after 10 years at Masterton Intermediate School.

He was a veteran educational traveller to Japan, which he had visited seven times as a teacher during annual MIS class trips and on a personal study trip, but this is going to be his first journey to China.

"I'm really keen to see the difference in the cultures of Japan and China, the lifestyles, the different societies," he said.


Mr Kerr said he had become reasonable proficient in Japanese but so far had learnt only rudimentary words and phrases in Mandarin Chinese, which is spoken across most of northern and southwestern China.

"I'm looking forward to it but I am a bit nervous. After several school trips to Japan and a study visit to the Language Institute in Kan Sai, I can understand a fair bit of Japanese but my understanding of Mandarin Chinese leaves a lot to be desired. I guess I'll have to learn on the road."

Mr Kerr, a father of three whose wife Michelle is a teacher at Lakeview School, said the month-long journey was a long time away from his family but the reward for himself and other teachers was worthwhile.

"I think over the last few years there's been a bit of a lack of uptake and they've struggled to find people to go. With the experience I've had travelling to Japan, they were looking for feedback about how well the exchange was working, and those things that could be improved to help make the opportunity more desirable."

There was space for two Masterton teachers on the trip, which will run from tomorrow to October 7, although Mr Kerr would go solo this time around. Masterton District Council was contributing $1000 to the cost of his travel and accommodation for the trip was paid.

Mr Kerr will follow a tourist route through the capital of Beijing over the first four days of his visit - visiting the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square - before flying on to Changchun, the capital and with a population of 3.2 million people the largest city of Jilin province, located in the northeast of the country.

The Changchun Education Bureau will provide him with a translator and he will for three weeks teach students aged from 5 to 15 at a number of schools spread throughout Changchun.

He would take poi to help with lessons on Maori culture and also will use Wairarapa paua shell during some classes to fashion necklaces students could have as keepsakes.


"I'll be teaching simple greetings in English and Maori and introducing them to the New Zealand culture - giving them a taste of Kiwi."

He said Masterton District councillor Jonathan Hooker, who is chairman of the Masterton International Relations Committee (MIRC), had been vital to arranging the trip alongside long-time teacher exchange representative Eric Blown.

The teacher exchange programme was founded after past Wairarapa College teachers Don Simpson and his wife Lorna were invited to teach in China in 1978, becoming the first teachers from the West to teach in the communist nation since the tumult of the cultural revolution.

MIRC oversees the teacher exchange programme, and linked schemes included The Sister Cities Half Marathon and The American and Oceanian Regions Economic and Trade Fair.

The half marathon takes place in early September and was an annual 21km race held since 2011 in Changchun Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Runners aged from 16 to 65 are eligible and up to three racers may enter the event as sister cities contestants.

Mr Kerr was forsaking the marathon on his trip but was keen to complete a four-kilometre mini marathon running the same day, he said.

The trade fair, held from September 15 to 17, was a third event on the sister cities card and helped spotlight opportunities for multilateral economic and trade co-operation between Changchun and Masterton.