STUDENTS enjoyed an unforgettable trip to China to sample the culture and the food - even seeing an animal park where visitors can slide live chickens into a tiger enclosure.

The language and culture trip was organised by The Institute of Education and Hanban - the Chinese equivalent of the British Council.

This is the first time Hove Park has taken part in the annual trip, which is open to schools with Confucius Classrooms status who have Chinese Mandarin embedded in their curriculum.

Hove Park were proud to be among the few state schools taking part and after a 26 hour journey via a minibus, two planes, a three hour stop in Dubai and a coach drive through a tropical storm in 40 degree heat, all schools congregated in Beijing for a day of sightseeing.

They visited a Buddhist temple complex, saw the giant pandas at Beijing Zoo, ate like kings at a traditional restaurant - although were sometimes unable to identify the dishes on offer - and were given a formal welcome at the Confucius Headquarters.

The schools were then split into groups and sent to different provinces for the main focus of the trip - a 10 day Mandarin language course.

The Hove Park recruits were flown to Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, a lesser-known province in the north of the country at the nexus of Mongolia, Siberia and North Korea where tourists rarely go.

There, they settled into a routine at Heilongjiang University where they took Mandarin lessons daily, being taught by experienced local teachers.

In the afternoons there was free time to explore the area, which gave the students a chance to see the real China close up.

The nearby night market was an eye opener for many students with its colourful food carts and stalls selling cheap copy branded goods alongside puppies and other unexpected items.

The organised excursions around the Harbin area included a trip to Harbin Polarland, where beluga whales performed a dance to the Titanic theme tune and the Siberian Tiger Park where you could buy a live chicken for £5 and send it down a chute into the tiger enclosure, or for the same price cuddle a baby tiger.

The course culminated in an official Youth Chinese Test exam to test all four skills in Mandarin, including a 100 character essay on their China experience, which all students passed with flying colours.

The group then spent the last three days back in Beijing for the iconic sights - Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and a meal of Beijing delicacies including Peking duck, jiaozi dumplings and perhaps the least favourite – the thousand year egg.

Nicola Larkin from the Institute of Education (IoE) said: “The 2015 China camp was the most successful to date and the IoE was very impressed with the students who took part.

“They displayed a level of maturity in dealing with many of the challenges faced being in a foreign country and being away from home. We felt that students really enjoyed their time in Beijing and the provinces and got a great deal out of the life-changing experience.”

Hove Park’s Kate Griffin, who went on the trip, said: “This was a once in a lifetime experience for the students and I’m sure they will never forget their time in China.

“Their Mandarin skills have definitely improved as has their confidence in using the language in situ.”

Headteacher Rob Reed said: “The trip to China is an example of the inspirational and enriching wider education enjoyed by children at Hove Park School.”