With paisley backpacks, Adidas sweats and baseball caps, many of the 9- and 10-year-old children visiting from China were indistinguishable from their American hosts at Ohlone Elementary School Wednesday morning though a few of the visitors wore uniforms of orange jackets and blue caps.
The 70 visiting students from two Beijing primary schools as well as a group called Young Cultural Ambassadors spent the morning singing and talking with their U.S. counterparts, visiting classrooms and petting the sheep and goats in Ohlone's farm.
"I think America is very beautiful," said 9-year-old Yiwen Zhou, who is visiting the United States for the first time. "And I can learn more English."
Her 10-year-old friend Qiyue Wang said she had traveled in 2012 to Canada and last year to England.
Such is elementary education at least for some lucky children in the age of globalization.
The students are on a month-long winter break, slated to return to school in mid-February for a term that runs to July.
Earlier on the trip, they'd visited Disneyland and Universal Studios, Yiwen said.
Later they were headed to San Jose State University and to the "company store" at Apple's corporate headquarters, which sells Apple-logo T-shirts, caps and accessories.
Google was to be Thursday's destination where, through some connections, the visiting students expected to actually get inside the buildings to see employees at work. Traveling in two buses, the visitors are based in a hotel in Concord.
Ohlone parent Keyi Chang, a Bay Area Chinese-language TV personality, helped to arrange the visit after being contacted by a group called the American-Chinese Environmental Protection Information Exchange Association.
"They were referred to me and asked me to find a school," Chang said. "Because of the Ohlone farm, I thought it would be good for environmental awareness and, also, if they don't speak that good English maybe they could still communicate because some kids at Ohlone know how to speak Mandarin."
Indeed, six of Ohlone's 28 classrooms are Mandarin Immersion classes, designed to develop full bilingualism for native speakers of each language.
To greet the visiting Chinese students, Ohlone second- and third-graders, under the direction of their teacher Lu Sun, read a story in Mandarin about a tiger and a rabbit.
A second group of Ohlone students sang in English "This Land is Your Land" and "Make New Friends," inviting the visitors to join in.
Visiting students offered a performance on a ceramic flute, renditions of Chinese songs and one solo performance of a song in English titled "Price Tag," with a refrain of "money, money, money."
Students divided into groups to visit classrooms 11 Ohlone teachers volunteered to host for discussions about recycling and the environment.
China has more than 220 million children under age 14, an adult leader of the visiting group said in an opening ceremony. "They are eager to communicate as well as to understand each other."
Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the crowd, assembled under Ohlone's flagpole with the school's Chinese dragon nearby: "It's so important as you grow up that you keep these connections and that understanding and friendship as you become adults and become responsible for the relationship between our two countries."
A local Chinese educator who helped to organize the exchange said many of the visiting students are the children of Chinese government officials and frequently travel abroad.
Ohlone Principal Bill Overton said student trips to China had been contemplated in the six-year history of the Mandarin Immersion Program, but never undertaken. Because of state rules barring parent financing of school-sponsored trips, any such trip would have to be organized by parents and done during vacation time, he said.